In the heart of the Motor City and throughout Michigan, where the echoes of roaring engines once dominated the airwaves, there exists a different kind of roar – that of the Detroit Lions Football Team.
The Portsmouth Spartans were founded in Portsmouth, Ohio (yes, OHIO!) and joined the NFL on July 12, 1930. They moved to Detroit in 1934 after being bought by George A. Richards. They were renamed the Detroit Lions as a nod toward the Detroit Tigers.
The Lions have experienced their fair share of ups and downs. From the “Fearsome Foursome” defensive line of the 1960s to the “Silver Crush” defense of the 1970s, the Lions have had memorable moments despite their struggles. The team has spent too many years “rebuilding” and with a change in management and coaches 3 years ago, the future looks very bright for our Lions.
For 65 years the Curse of Bobby Layne has been believed to be the reason for the Lions struggles and failures. Bobby Layne led the Lions to three NFL Championships between 1950 & 1958 as one of 2 quarterbacks. Layne broke his ankle in the second to last game of the 1957 regular season. The Lions went on to win the championship that year. Two games into the 1958 season Layne was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers in exchange for Michigan State quarterback Earl Morrall and two high draft picks. Layne was understandably angry and supposedly said the Lions would not win a championship for another 50 years.
When Layne was asked about it in 1971, he said “We had been very successful in Detroit. …I really didn’t know what to think. I tried what they referred to as a hex.”
The Detroit Free Press talked to his son, Alan Layne in 2017. He said he never heard his father speak ill about the Lions but was told by his mother that the curse was real. Layne’s 1957 teammates were also convinced that the hex worked.
The Elusive Playoffs
The Lions would not make the playoffs again until 1970, finishing in second place in the NFC Central with a 10-4 record. They lost 5-0 to the Dallas Cowboys in the lowest scoring NFL playoff game in history. Was the first playoff game without a touchdown in 20 years.
Since the curse, the Lions have made the playoffs 12 times as of the 2022 season and only won 1 of those games. They won the 1991 Divisional Playoffs against the Cowboys 38-6. They went on to lose the NFC Championship to the then Washington Redskins 41-10.
50 Years and Counting
At the 50-year mark, the year the curse was supposed to be over, would test every Lion fan’s loyalty. The Lions became the first team in NFL 16-game season history to go winless. Many fans attending games wore paper bags over their heads to show their disappointment and embarrassment. The fans and the media were calling for the Ford family to sell the Lions to someone who was willing to spend the money on players and coaches. The Ford family refused, and the faithful fans hunkered in for the long haul.
To add to the Lions woes was what seemed to be a revolving door of head coaches. From 1958 to present there have been 21 coaches. This averages out to a new coach every 3 years. During that time Wayne Fontes was the longest reigning head coach at 8 years. The 2020 season saw 3 head coaches after Matt Patricia was fired after a Thanksgiving Day loss. Darrell Bevell was named Interim Head Coach and due to Coronavirus restrictions, Robert Prince was the acting head coach for one game.
How much could one team take?
The Lions are the only NFC team to have never played in the Super Bowl. They are one of only four NFL teams to have never reached the Super Bowl. Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Houston Texans all AFC teams are the other three.
The Jags and Texans are relatively new teams and part of the expansions in 1995 (Jags) and 2002 (Texans). The Browns did not exist for 3 years in the nineties when they moved to Baltimore and became the Ravens. Technically the team as the Browns have not been in the Super Bowl, but the Ravens have. Should you give partial credit for the Ravens?
Changes in the Front Office
In 2020 Sheila Ford Hamp took over as Principal Owner and Chair of the Detroit Lions and fans held their breath. Sheila was known around Ford Field, and everyone knew that she was madly in love with football. She stated she would not meddle but would stay informed. Hamp told Chris Spielman (former Lion Linebacker) that the mission – the fixing of the unfixable – had become personal for her. She was meeting with him in hopes of bringing him on board as Special Assistant to President/CEO and Chairperson of the Detroit Lions.
In January 2021 it was Hamp who brought both Brad Holmes as GM and Dan Campbell (former Lion Tight End) as head coach on board. She wanted to “do right by” the Lions and set them up for a shot at success for the first time in over 60 years.
The hiring of Dan Campbell in 2021 was met with confusion as to why he was hired. His lack of coordinator experience and his opening press conference were cause for concerns. After his 4-19-1 start in his first 24 games even the most loyal Lion fans started losing faith that Hamp was going to be the change they had been hoping for.
Campbell brought with him a culture change, he brought “Grit” to the team. He was with the Lions as a player for the 0-16 season. He was asked what that means to him: “Grit is, I think it’s, when you have the ability to overcome adversity in any situation,” Coach Campbell stated. “The ability to push through it, mentally, physically, to overcome. I think that’s what grit is in a nutshell.”
In the 2022 season the Lions start 1-5 and Hamp made it clear that she was still fully supporting the staff she put together. The lions won 8 of the next 11 games including beating Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau Field. They did not make the playoffs that year, but things were looking up, could the curse finally have been lifted?
Breaking the Curse
About that curse, there is speculation that Payton Manning as well as Lion’s fans Jeff Daniels and Keegan-Michael Key may have played a role in the turn around. During the 2022 season these three men attempted to exorcize the curse. Did it work? Well, the Lions have been 22-8 since that moment. Winning the NFC North for the first time and on their way to face the 49ers in the NFL Conference Championship game.
What do you think? Do we owe these guys a beer?
As we reflect on the tales of triumphs and challenges, one cannot help but wonder. What new chapters will the Detroit Lions write in the seasons to come? The gridiron awaits, and the question echoes throughout Michigan, leaving fans eager for the next kickoff. Will the Lions’ perseverance eventually lead them to a Super Bowl victory? Fingers crossed. 🙂