Familiar name keeps link to NFL

I’d like to introduce former NFL offensive lineman Lilja and former NFL offensive lineman Lilja — no relation.

While watching a recent football game, a reporter saw a name that caught his eye.

It must have been an ad for ESPN’s Peyton’s Places. Peyton Manning was talking about why football movies always feature quarterbacks.

The ad suggested that maybe a movie should feature someone at another position.

Then there is some footage of then-Colts quarterback Manning with offensive lineman Ryan Lilja.

Over a nine-year career starting in 2004, Lilja played with Manning in Indianapolis and, after a brief retirement, in Denver.

Lilja is not the most common name. According to Forebears.io, it is the 49,453rd most common surname in the world. By comparison, Ferry is the 15,217th most common.

Most of the people with the name Lilja are in Sweden and Iceland. About 1,200 people in the U.S. have that name.

Warren General Hospital Director of Marketing and Business Development George Lilja was an NFL offensive lineman from 1982 to 1987. In 1985, George Lilja started every game for the Cleveland Browns.

So, two Liljas in the NFL, both offensive lineman, about 20 years apart?

They have to be related.

Last week, the Times Observer asked George Lilja if he is related to the Lilja in the commercial.

Turns out … no.

But it wasn’t the first time a Lilja has faced that question.

“When Ryan Lilja, who played for Kansas State University, first came to the NFL by draft to Indianapolis, he was lucky enough to play with Peyton Manning and go to the Super Bowl as a starter on the offensive line,” George Lilja said. “I got numerous phone calls and emails after that Super Bowl from friends and fans asking if Ryan was my son.”

The questions went in the other direction, too.

“I did get a chance to connect with Ryan while he was playing with the Colts and he also said he always got asked the question if he was ex-Cleveland Browns o-linemen George Lilja’s son,” George said.

The connections go at least one more step.

“His offensive line coach on the Colts was also my O-Line coach with the Cleveland Browns — by the name of Howard Mudd,” George said.

“I asked Howard at a Browns reunion once, how he liked coaching another Lilja,” he said. “He laughed and said he called him George for a whole year by accident, because Ryan reminded him of me.”

“So I told my old coach, ‘then you must have been yelling at him the whole time,'” he said.

Small world.

Brain Ferry is a staff writer for the Times Observer.


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