Detroit Lions Information
Early highlights as the Portsmouth Spartans include the "iron man" game against Green Bay in 1932. In that game Spartan coach Potsy Clark refused to make even a single substitution against the defending NFL champion Packers. Portsmouth won 19-0 and used only 11 players all game. Also as the Portsmouth Spartans, the franchise played in an unscheduled NFL championship game against the Chicago Bears in 1932. The Spartans-Bears game was played because both teams ended the regular season with the same won-lost percentage (the Spartans finished at 6-1-4 while the Bears were 6-1-6; ties were not reckoned as part of the percentage in the NFL until 1972). Due to blizzard conditions in Chicago, the game was moved from Wrigley Field indoors to Chicago Stadium, which allowed for only an 80-yard field; some have called the contest the first arena football game. The Bears won, 9-0, and the resulting interest led to the establishment of Eastern and Western conferences and a regular championship game beginning in 1933. Poor revenues and the Great Depression led to the team's move from Portsmouth to Detroit in 1934. That season, Detroit hosted its first ever Thanksgiving Day game, a tradition continued to this day.
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Under quarterback Dutch Clark, Detroit won its first NFL championship in 1935. In 1943, the Lions and the New York Giants played to a 0-0 tie at Detroit - the last time an NFL game has ended with a scoreless tie.
Detroit enjoyed its greatest success in the 1950s. Led by quarterback Bobby Layne, they won the league championship in 1952, 1953, and 1957. They defeated the Cleveland Browns in each of those NFL Championship Games, but also lost to the Browns in the 1954 Championship Game.
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On January 7, 1961, the Lions defeated the Browns 17-16 in the first-ever Playoff Bowl matching the runners-up from the two conferences into which the NFL was divided at the time (the Lions also appeared in the game in both of the next two years pursuant to their having finished second to the Green Bay Packers in the Western Conference in all three seasons; the Playoff Bowl was abolished in 1970 when the merger of the NFL and AFL went into full effect).
In the mid-1960s, the Lions served as the backdrop for the humorous sports literature of the late George Plimpton, who spent time in the Lions training camp masquerading as a player. This was the basic material for his book Paper Lion, later made into a movie. Also during the mid 1960s, William Clay Ford, Sr. purchased a controlling interest in the team.
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Motown soul singer Marvin Gaye made plans, after the death of duet partner Tammi Terrell, to join the Lions and go into football. He gained weight and trained for his tryout in 1970, but was cut early on. He remained friends with a number of the players, particularly Mel Farr and Lem Barney, who appear on his 1971 classic single "What's Going On."
In 1980, the Lions drafted running back Billy Sims with the first overall pick in the NFL Draft. Led by Sims, the team got off to a promising start that year and attracted considerable media attention when they adopted "Another One Bites The Dust," popularized by glam rock band Queen, as an unofficial team song. Lions player Jimmy "Spiderman" Allen recorded his own version of the tune with rewritten lyrics: Come and watch them Detroit Lions who no one seems to beat...and another one bites the dust which became popular on local Detroit radio. When the dust cleared, though, Detroit finished 9-7 and out of the playoffs, despite a 4-0 start.
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In 1991, the Lions reached the NFC championship game after having been shut out 45-0 by the Washington Redskins on opening night, eventually going 12-4. They were inspired late in the season by the loss of guard Mike Utley who sustained a career-ending paralysis injury against the Los Angeles Rams on November 17, 1991. As Utley was carted off the field in that game, in a true sign of courage, he flashed a "thumbs up" to his teammates and the Silverdome crowd. It became a rallying symbol for the remainder of the season. They won their first division title in eight years, and got their first (and to date, only) postseason victory since 1957, when they defeated the Dallas Cowboys 38-6 at the Silverdome. They lost to the Redskins in the NFC championship game, 41-10 (the Lions have never beaten the Redskins in Washington in twenty tries, going back to 1936). This was the first time a team that had been shut out in its opener had reached the conference title round, and would remain the only such occasion until both the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots did likewise in 2003 (with New England going on to win the Super Bowl).
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In the 2005 season, the Lions (whose home stadium, Ford Field, was the site of Super Bowl XL) won their first game against division rival Green Bay (17-3), but were humiliated by the Bears in the second game (38-6). The Lions then lost a close game to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after a seemingly game winning touchdown was reviewed and controversially reversed (17-13). However, the Lions went to 2-2 after a win against the Baltimore Ravens (35-17). After a last-second loss to the Carolina Panthers (21-20), Jeff Garcia was named the starting quarterback, and he led the Lions to a 13-10 win over Cleveland in Week 7. However the Lions went into week 8 and lost to the Bears once again. Garcia threw a heartbreaking interception in OT which the Bears' CB Charles Tillman returned for a TD (19-13). The next week, the Lions had high hopes as Joey Harrington was reinserted as the starter vs. the troubled Minnesota Vikings. However the Lions went down early and lost 27-14. The Lions did get a 29-21 win in week 10 against the Arizona Cardinals. However, losses to the Dallas Cowboys, 20-7, and the Atlanta Falcons on Thanksgiving, 27-7, pushed their regular season record to 4-7. As a result, head coach Steve Mariucci was fired a few days later on November 28, and Dick Jauron was named interim head coach. After the release of Mariucci, Cornerback Dré Bly, placed the blame on Harrington, saying that "he [Harrington] had been there for 4 years and had not done anything for the team." Bly later apologized for his statement.
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Things only got worse for the Lions. They lost their Week 13 home game to the Minnesota Vikings 27-7 amidst chants from Lions' fans of "Fire Millen", a reference to embattled Lions' GM Matt Millen, and then dropped to 4-9 with a Week 14 road loss at Lambeau Field in overtime 16-13 to the Green Bay Packers. Even worse, they got man-handled at home on Week 15 by the Cincinnati Bengals (41-17). With this losing record, they missed the postseason, and were unable to play Super Bowl XL on their own home turf.
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On January 19, the Lions made their very first step in the 2006 offseason, as they hired Rod Marinelli as the teams new head coach. From the Tony Dungy "coaching tree", Marinelli had previously served as the defensive line coach and had the title of assistant coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
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On March 20, 2006, the Lions announced plans to release or trade QB Joey Harrington. Harrington had been the franchise's top draft choice in 2002, but had failed to meet expectations in his tenure with the team. Before announcing plans to part ways with Harrington, the team acquired QBs Jon Kitna, Josh McCown, and Shaun King through free agency.