He has toiled on losing teams for most of his 14 NFL seasons, and now that he's on the verge of the biggest game of his career, Detroit Lions center Dominic Raiola won't get to play because of his own misbehavior.
The NFL announced today that it suspended Raiola one game without pay for stomping on the ankle of Chicago Bears defensive tackle Ego Ferguson.
Raiola is appealing the suspension, but unless a Tuesday afternoon hearing goes his way, he'll miss this weekend's NFC North showdown between the Lions and Green Bay Packers (4:25 p.m., Fox).
The Lions and Packers are tied atop the division with identical 11-4 records, and the winner will get a first-round playoff bye as the NFC North champion.
Raiola, who has six player-safety violations since 2010, said Sunday that he did not intentionally step on Ferguson's ankle and that he apologized to the rookie defensive tackle after the game. He did not respond to requests for comment today.
Lions coach Jim Caldwell said today that he believes Raiola, but the organization was bracing for a suspension nonetheless.
"Obviously, I took a good look at (the play)," Caldwell said. "Looked at both the coach's copy and also the television copy as well, and I believe what Dom told me, that it was inadvertent. But I can also see why it, obviously, is being reviewed by the league and everybody's taking a real good look at it, because you can also see the other side of that, as well. There's a league protocol to it. It'll be reviewed, taken a look at, and we'll deal with the issues after there's been some determination there."
Raiola, who was fined $10,000 early this year for an illegal club to the head of New England Patriots defensive tackle Zach Moore, appeared to purposely step on the back of Ferguson's ankle after a 4-yard run by Joique Bell early in the third quarter of the Lions' 20-14 victory Sunday at Soldier Field.
Raiola was behind a pile of bodies on the play when he hopped over Ferguson's legs and landed on his right ankle with one foot.
Ferguson left for the rest of the series with a sprained ankle but returned later in the game.
Bears coach Marc Trestman told reporters in Chicago today that the team submitted that play to the NFL for review.
"I know what my intentions were," Raiola said Sunday. "We're out there trying to score a touchdown. I'm not going to put myself in position to get a 15-yarder; come on now. I knew I was stumbling. Me and (guard Rob Sims) had a combination block. I remember exactly what happened. Stumbling through. If I intentionally step on him, that puts me in danger of getting hurt, so let's put that to rest. He accepted the apology. We move on."
Ferguson said after the game that he did not accept Raiola's apology – "We all saw the play. You can't take back what happened with that play, do you know what I mean? You saw the play," he said – and one of his Bears teammates, Brandon Marshall, spoke out against Raiola on Chicago radio Monday.
"It's ridiculous," Marshall, who missed the game because of injury, said on ESPN-1000. "He shouldn't be allowed in the NFL. He should be banned from the NFL."
A second-round pick out of Nebraska in 2001, Raiola has been one of the Lions' most durable -- and controversial -- players for most of his NFL career.
He started 104 straight games in 2002-08, before he missed four weeks with a broken right thumb, and has started 99 straight games since. He has played in just one playoff game in his career: a 2011 wild-card loss to the New Orleans Saints.
The Lions' all-time leader in games started, Raiola has been fined at least twice by the Lions for inappropriate conduct toward fans. In 2008, he was fined $7,500 for giving the middle finger to hecklers at Ford Field. Two years later, he was fined $15,000 for giving Dolphins fans a vulgar directive after a Lions win in Miami.
Last year, Raiola agreed to make a donation to the University of Wisconsin band after band members accused him of making gay slurs before a game against the Packers.
If Raiola does not win his appeal and is forced to miss Sunday's game at Lambeau Field, where the Lions have not won in more than two decades, the Lions will start rookie third-round pick Travis Swanson at center.
Swanson, a four-year starter at center for Arkansas, started three games at right guard for the Lions when Larry Warford was out with a knee injury in November.
"It's one of those things where, obviously, you can't replace experience, but nevertheless youth and vitality, we hope, will be able to offset some of that," Caldwell said. "You certainly can't offset all of that."
Detroit Free Press sports writers Dave Birkett and Carlos Monarrez believe Detroit Lions center Dominic Raiola did not intend to hurt Chicago Bears tackle Ego Ferguson while stepping on him and doesn't deserve a suspension.
Contact Dave Birkett: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.