ALLEN PARK, Mich. - Matthew Stafford grew up rooting for his hometown Dallas Cowboys and looking up to quarterback Troy Aikman.
He had Cowboys trading cards and once dressed up as one of their players -- sporting a plastic helmet -- for Halloween.
"That's what everybody did. It was Dallas," Stafford recalled. "They were winning Super Bowls."
He will put his childhood memories aside Sunday, hoping the Detroit Lions (4-3) beat Dallas (4-3) to avoid dropping to a .500 record going into their bye.
Stafford's family members have been converted to Lions fans, but not all of his friends will be when he is playing against their beloved Cowboys.
"They want me to have a really good game and lose it in the end," he said.
John Stafford recalls taking his son to a couple of Cowboys games a year, starting at the age of 5 after it was clear the kid knew what he was looking at on a football field.
"Once when he was 4, he was sitting next to me at home while we were watching a game on TV," John Stafford said Wednesday in a telephone interview. "There was a run to the left and Matthew said, `The left tackle didn't pull.' Seconds later, John Madden said the same thing on TV. It was incredible. He absolutely knew what was going on even when he was that young."
John Stafford watched his son play against the Cowboys on Oct. 2, 2011, when he threw a winning touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson with 1:39 left in the road game. And he plans to be at Ford Field on Sunday.
"It's not surreal because Matthew belongs in the NFL," John Stafford said. "I'm just so happy for him because he's doing what he loves to do and has always loved to do and he's getting to do it at the highest level."
Stafford has done his part to help the Lions have success this season. He has an NFC-high 2,129 yards passing, is tied for second in the NFL with 15 touchdown passes and has thrown just four interceptions.
Sometimes, though, Stafford has thrown passes too high or wide this year when the Lions have really needed him to connect for first downs or scores. He was 28 of 51 in Sunday's loss to Cincinnati, completing a season-low 54.9 percent of his passes.
"Obviously, I missed a couple," he said. "I missed a 70-yarder to CJ (Calvin Johnson) and that's like a long foul ball. You're not going to hit those all the time. Obviously every game, there are throws you want back. But I feel like I'm putting the ball in some good spots for guys to make plays."
Lions receiver Kevin Ogletree, a former Cowboy, said Stafford hasn't missed him on any of the passes he has thrown his way in three games. Ogletree was on the receiving end of a perfect 43-yard pass that hit him in stride along the sideline against the Bengals.
"That was the most accurate pass I've ever caught," Ogletree said.
While Stafford's arm strength might hurt him when a soft touch is needed on short passes, it helped on that particular throw.
"That was a ball that I had to rip," he said.
Stafford said he has talked to and learned from Aikman over the years, learning that a strong arm isn't the only thing NFL quarterbacks need to win.
"His biggest deal was timing," Stafford said. "He and Michael Irvin had unbelievable timing with (Jay) Novacek and all those guys. You watch him play, he was cutting loose at the out route early. He and Irvin just had that."
NOTES: Lions DT Ndamukong Suh said he hasn't decided whether to accept the NFL's offer to discuss his discipline-filled season next week. ... Lions WR Calvin Johnson (right knee), S Louis Delmas (knee) OT Corey Hilliard (knee) and OT Riley Reiff (hamstring) didn't practice Wednesday, while OT Jason Fox (knee) and CB Rashean Mathis (groin) were limited.
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