Author Elmore Leonard had this to say about where he grew up:
“There are cities that get by on their good looks, offer climate and scenery, views of mountains or oceans, rockbound or with palm trees,” he wrote. “And there are cities like Detroit that have to work for a living.”
Jared Goff will work for a living in Detroit beginning next fall after being traded by the Los Angles Rams to the Lions. He’ll be well-paid but the 26-year-old former Cal quarterback, who was raised in Marin County, is sure to experience culture shock.
It was 70 degrees in L.A. on Tuesday, 34 in Detroit. But weather is only the beginning of the change he will encounter.
From the glitz of L.A., Goff is headed to Detroit, the city of Berry Gordy and Gordie Howe, Ty Cobb and Joe Louis. The Lions have boasted great NFL stars in Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson but have not played in an NFL championship game since the days of Bobby Layne in 1957. Jared Goff’s father wouldn’t be born for seven more years.
America’s auto industry once thrived there, but the city has struggled for decades, its population plummeting from 1.8 million in the 1950s to fewer than 700,000 today.
Marvin Gaye, part of the Motown music machine that also produced the Supremes, Four Tops and Stevie Wonder, once said, “Detroit turned out to be heaven, but it also turned out to be hell.”
Sports writer and author Mitch Albom insists his hometown has something to offer. “Detroit is a place where we’ve had it pretty rough,” he said. “But there is a generosity here and a well of kindness that goes deep.”
That’s exactly right, according to Isaac Wolf and Bryant Oliphant, a pair of Cal grads who have settled in the Detroit area and are excited that Goff will be leading the Lions.
“I’m very happy that he is coming and I’m not even a Lions fans,” Wolf said.
Both are members of the Motor City Bears, a Michigan-based Cal alumni group. Wolf serves as president.
Now 29, Wolf was the football play-by-play man for KALX radio during his undergrad days. “I was a senior when Goff was a freshman,” he said. “He beat out Zach Kline and we were all, `Who is this guy?’ “
Five years later, after breaking virtually every Cal passing record, Goff helped the Rams make it to the Super Bowl following the 2018 season. The Rams have soured on him since then, and he was packaged with three draft picks in exchange for popular veteran quarterback Matthew Stafford.
How will Goff be received by Lions fans?
“It all depends on his attitude,” said Wolf, who works in Detroit’s housing department. “People in Michigan have gone through a lot. They don’t like (BS) and there’s been a lot of that over the years here. If he tries to integrate himself, he’ll do fine. Our winters are cold, but our people are warm.”
And if Goff can help elevate the Lions into a winner?
“They’ll worship the ground he walks on,” Wolf said.
Oliphant, 45, attended Cal in the 1990s and served as a football team manager during the coaching regimes of Keith Gilbertson, Steve Mariucci and Tom Holmoe.
As an orthopedic surgeon who works two days a week in Detroit, Oliphant quietly roots for the Green Bay Packers — the Lions’ NFC North rival — because of Aaron Rodgers, another Cal grad. He’s been to only one Lions game, but says that could change with Goff’s arrival.
Oliphant suggests Goff’s new situation may have a ring of familiarity.
“There’s a lot of similarities between Cal and the Lions,” he said. “Both have not tasted a lot of success and they have similar expectations, just hoping for a competitive product on the field. I think the fan base is just like Cal, incredibly loyal and they really haven’t gotten a lot in return recently.”
Wolf believes Goff could be surprised by what he finds in Detroit. “I absolutely love it here,” he said. “I know about Detroit has this really bad reputation, but downtown Detroit is actually very, very nice.”
A native of Alameda, Wolf said that in non-COVID times there is lots to do in Detroit, including an assortment of good restaurants and bars.
He described Detroit-style pizza as a combination of Chicago’s deep-dish crust and New York’s toppings and suggested Goff check out Buddy’s Pizza. “It’s the place I go when friends visit from out of town.”
Hot dog lovers in Detroit must choose between American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island, which began as a single business more than a century ago before splitting after a falling out between brothers.
And for Middle Eastern food, there are countless offerings in nearby Dearborn, which has a significant population from that part of the world. A favorite: Shatila Bakery, serving Mediterranean pastries for more than four decades. “People drive from Cleveland to go there,” Wolf said.
Driving from Cleveland, of course, is different than moving from California. Oliphant believes Goff will find a community that meshes with his down-to-earth personality.
“The city has such a soul to it,” Oliphant said. “It’s so different than places in California but in a good way. People are receptive, engaging, embracing.”
Cover photo of Detroit in winter by Kimberly P. Mitchell,, Imagn Content Services
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo