To most, the headline for the game Sunday is Lions vs. 49ers, a battle between two young and dynamic contenders in the NFC. It's Jim Harbaugh vs. Jim Schwartz, two young and brash head coaches whose post-game handshake at the end of last season's game nearly triggered a brawl.
For Rob Sims, it's more personal than that. Lions-49ers means only one thing -- Justin Smith, the 49ers' three-time Pro Bowl defensive end.
"This is a game you put on your list before the season even starts," Sims said Wednesday. "You knew when that schedule came out, Week 2, you play Justin Smith. It might not sound like much to everybody, but to me, I mean, this is big."
Sims has butted heads with Smith the last six seasons, going back to his early years with the Seahawks. To Sims, Smith is the standard by which he judges his growth as an offensive lineman.
"I'm not saying he's everything I work for during the offseason, but he's one of them," Sims said. "When my career is done and people ask me who was the guy, he's one of the names I will say."
Sims put on an additional 15 pounds this offseason and is currently playing at 312 pounds partly because of Smith.
"Yeah, he's definitely one of the guys I had in mind when I put this weight on," he said.
Sims struggled to keep his weight at 300 pounds last season and he felt it hurt his ability to block strong power rushers like Smith. In the game last season, Smith dominated Sims. He had nine tackles against the Lions and 1.5 sacks.
It was, as Sims said, his worst performance of the season.
"I just made some mistakes that aren't in my character, that aren't things I usually do," Sims said. "I think it was because I got so pumped up for that game. I wasn't in my right frame of mind. I am normally kind of cool out there, just having a good time. That's who I am.
"I need to revert back to that. I still have a lot of respect for him, but I just have to play him head up."
It would be hard to watch Smith play on film -- or, more to the point, play against him for the last six seasons like Sims has -- without getting a little amped about the challenge. Smith has not missed a start in 10 seasons. He's posted six or more sacks the last four seasons and since 2001, he's posted more tackles than any other defensive tackle in the game (727) since 2001.
"When you play great players, you have to have a different mindset," Sims said. "The thing about Justin, he comes to play every single week, every single play. You had better do the same.
"It's an honor to get to play against a guy like that. We're just going to go out and do what we do."
63rd regular-season meeting. 49ers lead series, 35-26-1. The Lions haven't won in San Francisco since Nov. 2, 1975, and are 1-12 historically at Candlestick. Overall, the Lions have lost the last eight straight meeting, including a 25-19 loss at Ford Field last season.
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