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Lions coach Jim Caldwell met Muhammad Ali not once, but twice

WEST BLOOMFIELD, Mich. -- Muhammad Ali showed up the day before the Baltimore Ravens' 2012 season started. He hung out at practice and met with players and coaches afterward. It was the start of a magical season for the Ravens, who went on to win the Super Bowl that season.

By the end of that season, Jim Caldwell was running the team’s offense -- a role that eventually helped land him the head-coaching job in Detroit. But on the eve of that season, he got another special gift. He got to meet and take a picture with Ali.

As a child who grew up during Ali’s prime, it meant a lot to Caldwell.

“The thing about it is that most of us that grew up in the '60s remember him in his prime and not only that, how much of a force and impact he was, as well, in the community at large nationally,” Caldwell said before the Charlie Sanders "Have A Heart, Save A Life" golf outing Monday. “He was quite an imposing figure inside and outside the ring, I should say.”

It wasn’t the first time Caldwell met Ali. The first time came in 1985, the lone season Caldwell was employed as the wide receivers coach at the University of Louisville. Caldwell said he met Ali in an airport, although he didn’t say what airport it was in. Ali’s hometown, of course, was Louisville.

But as a man who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, Caldwell appreciated the impact Ali made on the United States and the world.

“He was an iconic figure, obviously,” Caldwell said. “And all the things that he did, not just in the way in which he performed his craft but his beliefs in terms of his commitments. He stood by them even though they were controversial.

“But I do think his stance in a number of cases often empowered others to take similar stances maybe dealing with different issues.”