OXFORD, Mich. -- A special delivery arrived at Oxford High School on Thursday morning, as former longtime Detroit Lions vice president of communications Bill Keenist met Oxford athletic director Tony DeMare inside his office to hand over a brown box as a gift from the team.
Inside was the official game ball from the Lions' emotional first win of the 2021 season, which Detroit coach Dan Campbell promised would go "to the whole Oxford community."
"Anytime people follow through on their commitment, it shows authenticity. It shows that they're genuine," DeMare said after receiving the ball. "It just heightens your respect for those individuals."
The Lions dedicated their first win of the 2021 season, over the Minnesota Vikings on Dec. 5, to the Oxford, Michigan, community after a shooting at Oxford High School on Nov. 30 left four teenagers dead and several others with injuries. The Lions paid for the game ball to be painted in a commemorative fashion with the final score, date and location before shipping it to Keenist, who is a longtime resident of Oxford.
"11/30 has a different meaning in Oxford now. It's not time to go to bed or get ready for lunch. Those numbers will never be forgotten for the honor of everybody involved," Keenist said. "The football will remain forever as another symbol of that."
The game ball will start off on display at the high school, where students can celebrate it first. The ball will then be shared with several organizations in the community, such as first responders, fire stations, police stations, Oakland County sheriffs, banks and restaurants.
DeMare plans to put the ball in a display case before passing it off to others who can keep it for up to a week.
"Just thinking about it, it's a football in a case, but it symbolizes the unity of people in Oxford," DeMare said.
Lions wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown caught the winning touchdown in walk-off fashion from quarterback Jared Goff during that upset over the Vikings. He described the win as his most memorable game, not just because that was his first career touchdown, but because the team rallied following the shooting. Members of the Lions honored the victims with T-shirts, hats and a helmet decal. They also held a moment of silence before the kickoff.
"I hope it represents to them just to never quit and that fight because I feel like with that shooting that went down, I feel like a lot of students could maybe become hopeless or lose motivation," St. Brown told ESPN. "For us, that game would literally describe what they're going through. We were [0-10-1] and figured out a way to win. A lot of people thought we were going to go winless all season, so we figured out a way to win at the end, and for me, it was a message to them to never quit.
"It's always hope, even in the worse times," he added. "There's always something to look forward to. You've just got to keep pushing, keep working, so I think it was just perfect how everything played out with Coach Campbell giving them that ball. Hopefully it gives them motivation moving forward."