Lions defensive tackle Alim McNeill honoring legacy of his jersey number

Alim McNeill modeled the new Lions' road jersey at the recent uniform unveiling, and he wants to meet the standard of his jersey number.
David Rodriguez Munoz / USA TODAY

When the Detroit Lions revealed their new uniforms last week, Alim McNeill was the model of the new road design. After dropping weight and his body fat percentage last offseason, which helped foster his breakthrough campaign, he acknowledged the obvious had the Lions unveiled new uniforms a year ago.

"I wouldn’t have been able to get into it last year," he joked, via Will Burchfield of 97.1 The Ticket. "I’m just glad they asked me to come."

Wearing the new Lions road uniform last Thursday night, McNeill was followed onto the stage by Chris Spielman, who is currently an advisor in the Lions' organization and is the franchise's all-time leading tackler. That was surely not an accident, since Spielman wore No. 54 for the Lions like McNeill does now.

McNeill, the 72nd overall pick in the 2021 draft, is a core piece of the Lions' defense as he moves toward his fourth NFL season. Another season like last year, or even better, is set to make him a very well-paid man as defensive tackle contracts keep getting bigger.

Alim McNeill motivated to honor legacy of No. 54 for the Lions

Spielman's playing career, capped by two seasons with the Buffalo Bills, ended in 1997. So McNeill, who will turn 24 on May 11, did not see him play and he admitted to not knowing much about Spielman after being drafted by the Lions.

Spielman was hired by owner Sheila Ford Hamp as a special assistant just months before the draft, and McNeill learned plenty after talking to the four-time Pro Bowler about his career.

With that, and upon learning about Spielman's career in Detroit, McNeill does not take wearing No. 54 for the Lions lightly.

"I had just a little bit of knowledge at the time of it, but not much because I didn’t really watch that era of football," said McNeill. "But going back and doing my research on him, obviously I looked it up, and to know everything I know now, it’s definitely an honor to be wearing it.

McNeill said he tells Spielman all the time "I’m just trying to match up to that standard" attached to wearing No. 54. In more comments after the uniform reveal, via Burchfield, he made a unique reference to Spielman and the all-around hands-on role the Lions' legend has in the organization. Spielman is often seen on the practice field, serving as an extra set of eyes for the coaching staff.

"I just told him right there, I appreciate the words he said for me on stage. I’m just trying to live up to that same name as Coach Spielman," said McNeill. "He did a lot here, he did a lot in this number and it’s only right that I play my hardest and give everybody everything that they need to see out of that number."

No. 54 will always be associated with Spielman in Lions' history, but McNeill is hopefully just beginning to carve out his own legacy donning those digits.


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