No matter how often players might want to say "it's just another game" when facing a former team or former teammates, the pastries told a different story.
When members of the Seattle-area media arrived at Seahawks headquarters on Thursday, they were greeted with a care package of sweets from tight end Luke Willson, who will face his former team on Sunday when the Lions host the Seahawks.
"My five years in Seattle were some of the best of my life, and you guys were a big part of that," Willson wrote in a note accompanying the treats. "I appreciate the working relationship we had together and your role in covering our team. I can't even imagine how much you all miss me."
That last line is vintage Willson humor, but the rest of the note is a reminder that despite the business side of the game, real relationships are formed during players' tenures in a particular city. And if Willson is considerate enough to think of the media, imagine what it might be like for him or DeShawn Shead to face the Seahawks this weekend.
Golden Tate, who was part of Seattle's first draft class under Pete Carroll and John Schneider, has been with the Lions since 2014, so he has already played against Seattle twice, once in 2015 and once in the 2016 postseason. But for Shead, who signed with the Seahawks as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2012, and Willson, a 2013 fifth-round pick, this will be their first time facing Seattle after spending six and five seasons, respectively, in the same city.
The focus for both teams on Sunday will be trying to earn a victory, but because Tate, Shead and Willson spent so much time in Seattle and were a part of so much of the team's success, Sunday's game will also be a chance for people to reconnect, even if only for a quick chat or postgame jersey exchange—K.J. Wright said he and DeShawn Shead already talked on the phone and agreed to swap jerseys postgame.
"Those three guys were really fantastic guys in this program and they're significant characters and personalities and contributors," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "Those guys, it feels like they're always kind of our guys because they started with us and grew up with us. It'll be fun to play against them. We're going to get after them hopefully and make it hard on them, just like they'll do to us. It should be real competitive and fun and all that, but if we get a chance, we'll visit with them, sure."
Back in Detroit, both players have downplayed the significance of facing their former team for the first time.
"It'll be good to see a lot of people; I know a lot of people there, but it's just another game for me," Shead told the Detroit News. "It's just another game. Just another championship opportunity."
Added Willson, "I prepare for them all week like I would prepare for anybody else. Then after the game, I'll be able to speak to my old buddies, share a few laughs, and then on to the next one. But it's not going to be too crazy for me."
Willson so far has been more involved in the offense as a blocker than as a pass catcher—he has six catches for 37 yards this season—while Shead's role has fluctuated from game to game, depending on matchups, and both players have impressed first-year Lions coach Matt Patricia with what they have brought to the team, both with their play and their veteran leadership.
"Luke has been great," Patricia said on a conference call with Seattle-area media. "I really liked him, in free agency, some of the versatility that he had as a player. I think he's a guy that can obviously help in the run game and the pass game, but he can also line up in a bunch of different alignments. He can be in the backfield, he can be on the line of scrimmage, he can be off, so some of that versatility factor was great. We thought it really fit some of the things that we wanted to do and when you meet Luke and you get a chance to spend some time with him, his energy, his enthusiasm for the game and the way that he loves to play and practice and get after it was just something that I thought was a good fit for our team."
On Shead, Patricia said, "He has done a great job. He has been back on the team and been playing for us and helping us through some games. He's an extremely mentally and physically tough player. He's very long. He does a great job of using his leverage and played quick for us on special teams. He does a good job, of course, on defense in whatever role we ask him to go out there and do. He's kind of been a quintessential part of our team here for the last several weeks. (He's a) guy that we got to know during the spring and worked through training camp and just glad at this point of how he's out there working hard every single day to get better."
While some players will only see their former teammates on Sunday or exchange quick hellos, others could end up matching up against them, such as Wright, who as Seattle's weakside linebacker often finds himself covering tight ends.
"I'm gonna mess Luke up… Nah, I'm just playing," Wright said with a laugh. "I do hope I cover Luke, and I hope I tackle Golden as well. I talked to Shead earlier this week and told him I've got to exchange jerseys with him. It'll be good seeing those guys."
Linebacker Bobby Wagner added that while he usually roots for his former teammates, that obviously won't be the case on Sunday.
"When I see the Lions come on, I root for Golden and stuff like that, but when he plays us, I hope he gets no catches, no yards and he gets hit a bunch of times," Wagner said. "I couldn't care less what he does, as long as he's healthy, it's all good. That's kind of how I look at it, it's a game, it's a competition. It's a kind of like going up against your brother, whether it's a little brother, big brother, you aren't going to let him win. That's kind of how I look at it—you're not going to win the game, I'm not going to give you that satisfaction."
The Seahawks and Lions face off on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023 at Ford Field. Kickoff is set for 10:00 a.m. PT. Take a look back through history at the Seahawks' matchups against the Lions.