If the Detroit Lions continue their current upward spiral pattern, it may be time to start becoming at least a little bit superstitious. I don't care how much of an atheist you are. The Lions are sitting at 7-3, having already won one more game than they did last season. They are led by a solid young quarterback named Matthew Stafford and an athletically gifted, sure-handed receiver in Calvin Johnson. They may have gone 6-10 last year, but three of the games they won were the last three of the season, and the momentum appears to have carried over.
The superstition surrounding the Lions has everything to do with a quarterback named Bobby Layne, who played for the Lions from 1950 to 1958 and led them to titles in 1952, 1953, and 1957. That's three of the four titles the Lions have won since their inception in 1929, when they were formed as the Portsmouth Spartans. (The fourth was their earliest, which they won in 1935.) In 1958, Layne was traded to the Steelers, and his response was to say the Lions would not win for 50 years. Although the quote is widely disputed as being a hoax, that doesn't change the fact that for the last 50 years, the Lions have been playing some of the most godawful football in the NFL. They accumulated the worst winning percentage in NFL history, had only 16 winning seasons (most of which were barely that), nine playoff appearances, three division titles, and one single playoff victory in 1991, when they went 12-4 and went to the NFC Championship game. They are one of only four teams in the NFL to never go to the Super Bowl, a very special humiliation because the other three teams that never got to the Super Bowl are the Cleveland Browns (who are allowed to carry the name, colors, and history of the old Cleveland Browns despite being an expansion team that started in 1999; the old Browns are now the Baltimore Ravens, who visited and won a Super Bowl in 2000), the Jacksonville Jaguars (who were founded in 1995... And STILL won two division titles, made six playoff appearances, and went to two AFC Championship games in that time), and the Houston Texans (who were founded in 2002 and have yet to make the playoffs).
Still not enough? Despite the losing, in 1989 the Lions drafted a running back named Barry Sanders. In an incredible NFL career which lasted for nine years, Sanders rushed for over 15,000 yards, went to the Pro Bowl every season, made the very exclusive 2000-yard club in 1997, led the NFL in rushing four times, and was the MVP in 1997. He was one season away from winning the all-time record for yards rushed, and could have blown the record out completely in three more years. He is widely considered the greatest running back of all time, an opinion I hold myself. But, sick of losing and drained of the fight which had allowed him to accomplish so much, Sanders up and retired just before the 1999 season began. Gave money back to the Lions to do it too. Didn't explain himself for many years. And if that doesn't cut it, I'm sure all you math whizzes reading this are well aware that Layne was traded in 1958, which meant his curse was supposed to expire in 2008. The Lions became the only team in NFL history to run the table in reverse that season. They went 0-16, which is difficult to do even if you're trying. Some NFL pundits believe a perfect season - 16-0 plus a Super Bowl victory - is easier, and you can ask the New England Patriots about that.
The city of Detroit has been symbolic of the times folks face on the Rust Belt, and the Lions have been symbolic of Detroit. Hit an apex, then a crash. The team's shape has been so dire that even the most diehard fans of the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, and Minnesota Vikings find it very difficult to root against them. There is genuine sympathy for the poor fans who are born with the light blue and silver of the Detroit Lions thrust on them. There has to be sympathy for the employees of the organization too - Lions marketing has to try to keep selling optimism, hope, and the future on the fans because it's not like they can sell them on the present. Or the past after 1958.
I hate to give the Lions such a low rating, but objectivity calls. Understand that I actually like the Lions quite a bit, even though they play in the same division as my other favorite team, the Chicago Bears (who will probably supplant the Buffalo Bills at the top very soon). The saga of the Lions has the sympathy of a lot of fans of Rust Belt teams, which mostly seem to be bleeding at any given moment. But even the other really bad teams in the any-given-game NFL can have their moments in the sun. Not only are the Lions bad, but the league seems intent on completely ignoring them. You don't see them on the nationally televised Sunday night games. Their appearances on Monday Night Football are so rare you'd think the league and the networks have some kind of edict against them. Their game on Monday night a few weeks back was the first in many years. (And you have to give them credit for making the most of it - they royally walloped the Bears.)
The Lions do get the distinction of being the showcased team for the NFL's Thanksgiving Day football games. They actually share it with the Dallas Cowboys, but it's the Lions who were the first team featured on Thanksgiving, and when people talk about watching Thanksgiving football, it's the Lions they automatically think of first. Feel free to insert your own joke about giving thanks that your team isn't the Detroit Lions.
Before the curse, the Lions had a winning tradition. I wouldn't quite call it rich, because the 1940's were a marked downside for them. But the bottom line is, they won games quite regularly, and their four NFL titles is pretty respectable, although that number is good for only the third most titles in their division and looks somewhat putrid compared to Green Bay's 13 titles and Chicago's nine. And the title-less Vikes weren't formed until the 1960's.
The Lions were first formed in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Portsmouth Spartans in 1929. Portsmouth was a small market - at the team's formation, Portsmouth was only a little bigger than the league's smallest market, which was Green Bay. They immediately made waves by twice beating a nearby independent team called the Ironton Tanks, and Portsmouth liked them enough to build them a field called Universal Stadium with their own money. They would have been a good highlight reel team back then if NFL teams were being given highlight reels at the time. There was one game, called the Iron Man game, in which the team's coach refused to use substitutes. The Spartans won 19-0 against the defending champion Packers. Also in 1932, the Spartans tied for first in the league with the Bears, and the tiebreaking game was put into Chicago Stadium after Wrigley Field got snowed out. It only allowed an 80-yard field. The Bears won, and ended up the league champions that year.
The good times didn't last, though. The team was hit hard by the depression and so, to save the Spartans, a Detroit radio executive named George Richards bought the team and put them into Detroit, a city which at the time was on the up and up. As a nod to the city's beloved baseball team, the Tigers, Richards named the team after another big cat: The Lion. The King of the Jungle! It was also Richards's radio connections that allowed the Lions to play the first-ever Thanksgiving game in Detroit, perhaps the greatest Lions tradition. (And one the NFL is seriously thinking of stopping, which makes them certified assholes.) Although the decade of the 1940's saw the Lions win a grand total of just 35 games, those early years were rife with success before Bobby Layne was traded. The Lions have 16 Hall of Fame players to show for that too, including Layne, Sanders, and Dick "Night Train" Lane.
Unfortunately, a lot of their other distinctions have to do with losing. They hired Matt Millen as the team President and CEO in 2001, a move which, to say the least, was a monumental blunder. The last decade has been especially unkind to Lions fans as the team set the records for most road losses in a row and most games lost in a single season (their infamous 0-16 season in 2008). Their best record was 7-9. I'm not trying to put too much of a point on it, but the Lions of the Millennial decade were even more futile than those awful Bengals teams of the previous decade. 2011 saw the Lions begin 5-0, which they haven't done since 1956.
Currently the only Lions fans are true, honest to god diehards. At this time, there's no other way to do it. Although I expect there to be plenty of bandwagon room once Bobby Layne fades away completely, right now it's only the true fans on board with the Lions. At least they have another color combo I'm very fond of: The Lions wear a shade of light blue called honolulu blue with silver and a few slivers of black. For a few years, they wore black alternate jerseys, but thankfully those ugly things were shelved after a few years.
The Lions have a storied history which is too overshadowed by losing to really offer more than the Thanksgiving game and Barry Sanders. Therefore, I have to rate negative. But you can bet those four titles will be flashed in front of your face once this pride is able to restore its once-mighty roar.
That's me. I'm that guy. You see me at the grocery store wearing my Lions gear and think that I can't hear you giggling or snickering. I'm that guy who has eternal optimism that this will be the year we finally turn things around. I'm the dude that LIKED Wayne Fontes. I wasn't happy about the way he left, but I believed Bobby Ross could turn things around. When Barry Sanders retired, I'm that guy that lobbied to make it a National Holiday. The greatest … more
The Detroit Lions participate in the National Football League (NFL) and are based in Detroit, Michigan. Detroit plays its games in the North of the NFC. The Detroit Lions, founded in 1929, play home games at Ford Field and have won four NFL Titles (1935, 1952, 1953, 1957).