Detroit Lions’ Everson Griffen won’t let go of Mike Zimmer slight. And I love it

Detroit Free Press

Carlos Monarrez
| Detroit Free Press

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Most people wouldn’t mind being called good at their jobs.

Everson Griffen definitely is not most people.

The Detroit Lions’ newly acquired defensive linemen was visibly upset Thursday with Mike Zimmer, his former coach with the Minnesota Vikings, for referring to him as a good player and not as a great player this week ahead of the teams’ matchup Sunday.

“Everson was a good player for us,” Zimmer said this week, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “So wish him well. Just not this week.”

To Griffen, a four-time Pro Bowler who had 74.5 sacks with the Vikings from 2010-19, those were fighting words.

In his first news conference with reporters since the Lions acquired him in a trade with the Dallas Cowboys last week, Griffen brought up Zimmer’s quote on his own.

“I got a little frustrated when I read that comment,” Griffen said Thursday, “what Zimmer said about, ‘Oh, Everson was a good player.’ Like coach Zimmer wasn’t just a good coach, he was a great coach to me. So for him to call me a good player, that kind of hurts my feelings. So on Sunday I’m really looking forward to playing the Vikings and showing him that I am a great player.

“I’m excited, I’m ready to execute. My mental health is strong, my physical health is strong, my mind is strong and I’m ready to go out there and dominate. I’m ready to create, adapt and go out there and win.

And then he brought up the comment again. And again. And again.

In 15 years of covering the Lions and the NFL, I’ve never heard someone make such a big deal over such a small slight, which isn’t even a slight. Zimmer is as classy , fair, funny and forthright as NFL coaches go.

For the record, this is what Zimmer said about Griffen on Wednesday during a news conference with Detroit reporters: “Everson was here when I got here his first year and we kind of grew together as far as our relationship. He was a tough, physical, aggressive pass rusher that learned how to play the run. He was very good at that. He was a great leader, kind of the Energizer Bunny of our defense. He was a big, big, big part of the success we’ve had in the past.”

What? How dare you! Pistols at dawn, sir!

But I get it. Griffen offered a heartfelt good-bye (great-bye?) to Vikings fans on Instagram in March when it was clear he wouldn’t be returning. He called his teammates brothers. He thanked “SKOL Nation” for their love and support and said his heart was heavy as he left.

Zimmer doing anything less than showering him with praise must have felt like a betrayal to Griffen. Good. Not great.

“I miss guys,” Griffen said of the Vikings. “I miss Harrison (Smith), I miss Anthony (Barr), I miss E.K. (Eric Kendricks), I miss Zimmer. So when Zimmer said that about that, I’m a ‘good player,’ all right. We’re going to see who’s a good player, all right? That’s what I’ve got for him.”

And yet I love it. I absolutely love it.

And I love Griffen for saying it because these words are genuine. Genuine hurt and genuine anger. In an era when athletes too often consider themselves brands more than people, Griffen’s unvarnished animus was refreshing and reaffirming.

It was also pretty funny. Griffen sounded like a pro wrestling villain ready to chase his arch nemesis around the ring with a folding chair.

(Note to Griffen’s Lions teammates: Make sure if you’re in Griffen’s presence you don’t mistakenly call anything “good.” So greet him with “great morning.” Tell him you like the TV show “The Great Place.” And one of your favorite movies is “Great Will Hunting.”)

Griffen kept going. When he was asked to clarify what he meant by showing the Vikings the type of great player he is, he took it further.

“Yeah, they gonna put some respect on my name,” he said. “He’s gonna put some respect on my name. That’s all I’m saying. He wasn’t just a good coach to me. He was a great coach. He helped me improve, he helped me grow.

“So I don’t ever talk bad about people. So for him to call me a good player, all right, I got something for him on Sunday.”

When he was asked what his favorite memory was of playing the Lions as a Viking, Griffen brought up the team’s 10-sack game in 2018 that set a franchise record, but he still managed to work in the slight.

“Yeah, we had some good moments there,” he said. “But I’m trying to change that role and do the opposite this week. Let us have the sack record this week against the Vikings. Because I’m just a good player. All right.”

The only thing close to this kind of disdain I’ve personally witnessed has been the way the Red Wings used to talk about Claude Lemieux even after their famous brawls. But even then, those were scabs and old wounds. This? This is fresh. It still bleeds for Griffen. It still hurts.

“It’s going to be fun on Sunday,” he said. “I’m going to come out and be a great player. And I’m going to come out and dominate and I’m going to come out and do that because I’m just good player, right? All right. All right. OK.”

Great. Absolutely great.

Contact Carlos Monarrez at and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

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