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The Detroit Lions are an American football team based in Detroitmarker, Michiganmarker. They are members of the North Division of the National Football Conference (NFC) in the National Football League (NFL), and play their home games at Ford Fieldmarker in downtown Detroit.

Originally based in Portsmouth, Ohiomarker and called the Portsmouth Spartans, the team began play in 1929 as an independent professional team, one of many such teams in the Ohio and Scioto River valleys. For the 1930 season, the Spartans formally joined the National Football League (NFL) as the other area independents folded because of the Great Depression. Despite success within the NFL, they could not survive in Portsmouth, then the NFL's smallest city. The team was purchased and moved to Detroit for the 1934 season.

The Lions have won four NFL Championships, the last in 1957, giving the club the second-longest NFL championship drought behind the Arizona Cardinals, who last won in 1947 (as the Chicago Cardinals). The Lions have yet to qualify for the Super Bowl. The team has qualified for the playoffs only nine times in the more than 50 years since winning the 1957 championship and has won only one playoff game in that span.

The Lions hold the second longest regular season losing streak in NFL history; losing 19 straight games from the final week of the 2007 season and ending on September 27, 2009, when the Lions defeated the Washington Redskins 19–14. It is second only to the 1976–77 Tampa Bay Buccaneers' losing streak of 26. Also since the NFL's expansion to 32 teams in 2002 the Lions are the only NFC team to not make the playoffs.

The 2008 Detroit Lions became the only team in NFL history to lose all 16 regular-season games. They are only the second team to go winless without a tie (next to the 0–14 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers) since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. They currently are 2–9 in 2009.

Early football in Detroit before the Lions, 1920–1928

Detroit had three early teams in the NFL before the Lions:
  • 1920–1921: The Detroit Heralds (renamed Tigers for 1921) were the first NFL team in Detroit from 1920–1921 before folding. The Heralds were one of the premier teams in the pre-NFL era, and along with being the best team in Michigan in the late 1910s, was also competitive with the top teams in the Ohio League and the New York Pro Football League as well. Upon the team's dissolution, its roster was absorbed into the Buffalo All-Americans in November 1921.
  • 1925–1926: From 1925–1926, the Detroit Panthers played in the league before folding.
  • In 1928, the Cleveland Bulldogs located to the city and were renamed the Detroit Wolverines. After one season, its roster was absorbed into the New York Giants at the end of the 1928 season.


Meanwhile, the Ohio-Kentucky-West Virginia tri-state area was becoming well known as a center of football excellence. The Ironton Tanks played NFL member teams annually throughout the 1920s with considerable success.

Early Thanksgiving Day games

While the Lions are well known for playing on Thanksgiving Day, the other Detroit teams had a history of playing on Thanksgiving Day as well:

Pro Football Hall of Famers



Season-by-season

Year W L T Finish Coach
Heralds 1920 2 3 3 9th Bill Marshall
Tigers 1921 1 5 1 16th Bill Marshall
Panthers 1925 8 2 2 3rd Jimmy Conzelman
1926 4 6 2 12th Jimmy Conzelman
Wolverines 1928 7 2 1 3rd Roy Andrews


Franchise history

1929–1933: Portsmouth Spartans

The Portsmouth Spartans formed in 1929, drawing players from defunct independent professional and semi-pro teams in the local Ohio-Kentucky-West Virginia tri-state area. They immediately made an impact by twice defeating the heralded Ironton Tanks, a nearby independent professional team who had regularly played NFL member teams since the early 1920s with considerable success. The successful 1929 season behind them, the Spartans gained full NFL membership for the 1930 season, managing a respectable 5–6–3 in league contests, while the rival Tanks became yet another casualty of the Great Depression.

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 number of victories (the Spartans finished at 6–1–4 while the Bears were 6–1–6; ties were not recognized as part of the percentage in the NFL until 1972). Because of blizzard conditions in Chicagomarker, the game was moved from Wrigley Fieldmarker indoors to Chicago Stadiummarker, 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.

1934: The Lions are born

Despite great success on the field, poor revenues and the Great Depression threatened the Spartans' survival. In 1934, a group led by Detroit radio executive George Richards (owner of Detroit's powerful WJRmarker) bought the Spartans and moved them to Detroit. Richards renamed the team the Lions, as a nod to the Detroit Tigers. He also said that the lion was the monarch of the jungle, and he intended for his team to be the monarch of the NFL.

Through Richards' radio connections, the Lions were able to play a Thanksgiving Day game in their first season in Detroit, a tradition continued to this day.

Under quarterback Dutch Clark, Detroit won its first NFL championship in 1935.

1940s

The 1940s were not a high point of the Lions history. They won a total of 35 games, for an average of 3.5 a season, including going 0–11 in 1942. The 1942 team's offense was so bad it scored only 5 touchdowns all season and never scored more than 7 points in a single game. In the middle of the decade they had some success finishing 6–3–1 in 1944 and 7–3 in 1945. The Lions were less successful in the latter half of the decade: from 1946 to 1949 the Lions won a total of 10 games.

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.

1950s

Primary Logo, 1952–1960.
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.

In 1958, after he had led the Lions to three NFL championship games and provided Detroit nearly a decade of Hall of Fame play, the Lions traded Bobby Layne. Bobby was injured during the last championship season, and the Lions thought he was through and wanted to get what they could for him. According to legend, as he was leaving for Pittsburgh, Bobby said that Detroit "would not win for 50 years." Since this time, the Lions have not won another championship and have only a single playoff game win. Some have attributed the Lions' subsequent 49 years of futility to the "The Curse of Bobby Layne."

Notably, the Lions succeeded in one of the greatest comeback victories in NFL postseason history. Trailing the San Francisco 49ers 27–7 in the 3rd quarter of the 1957 Western Conference Playoff game, Lions quarterback Tobin Rote rallied the team back with 24 unanswered points to beat the 49ers 31–27 at Kezar Stadiummarker in San Francisco. The following week, Rote led the Lions to a decisive win over the Browns for the 1957 title. The Lions have only one playoff win since then, against the Dallas Cowboys in the 1991 season.

Minority owner Ralph Wilson split off from the team in 1959 to take an American Football League franchise; initially planning to place it in Miami, he instead placed it in Buffalo, New Yorkmarker, where it would become the Buffalo Bills. For the first three years of its existence, the AFL's Bills and NFL's Lions had identical blue and silver colors, possibly second-hand from old Lions equipment.

1960s

Primary logo, 1961–1969.
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 sports literature of 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.

On November 22, 1963 William Clay Ford, Sr. purchased a controlling interest in the team for $4.5 million. This began a 43-year period that continues today, during which the Lions have won just one playoff game.

1970s

Tiger Stadium with football configuration.
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 as background vocalists on his 1971 classic single "What's Going On."

On Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1974, after over 35 years, the Lions played their final game in Tiger Stadiummarker, where they lost to the Denver Broncos 31–27 in front of 51,157, amidst snow flurries and a 21 point Broncos 3rd quarter. The Lions moved to the newly constructed Silverdomemarker and have played their home games indoors ever since.

The Lions made the playoffs only once in the '70s, losing a defensive struggle to the Dallas Cowboys, 5–0, in 1970. The team went through a string of average seasons, finishing 2nd or 3rd in the division in every season from 1970 through 1978. Finally, in 1979, the team finished with a 2–14 record, and thus earned the first pick in the following draft.

1980s

In 1980, the Lions drafted running back Billy Sims with the first overall pick in the NFL Draft. The Lions made the playoffs in 1982 and 1983, winning the division in the latter season. However, Sims suffered a career-ending knee injury in 1984, and the team would not finish with a record above .500 for the rest of the decade.

1990s

Lions logo (1970–2002).


During his first season after being drafted in 1989, Barry Sanders missed the NFL rushing title by 10 yards because he chose not to go back into the game when the Lions already had the game won. According to Wayne Fontes, when he offered Sanders the chance to gain the yardage and the rushing title, Sanders declined, reportedly saying, "Coach, let's just win it (the game) and go home."

In 1991, the Lions started the season by being shut out on national television, 45–0, by the Washington Redskins. The Lions then rebounded, winning their next five games. They went 12–4 for the season, They won their first division title in eight years, capping the regular season with a win over the then-defending AFC Champion Buffalo Bills. 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 he flashed a "thumbs up" to his teammates and the Silverdomemarker crowd. It became a rallying symbol for the remainder of the season.

In the playoffs, the Lions got their 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. This was the first time a team that had been shut out in its opener had reached the conference title round. Two teams have since matched this feat: The Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots did it in 2003.

The Lions also made the playoffs in 1993, 1994, 1995, 1997 and 1999, making the 1990s one of the most successful decades in team history. In 1993, they went 10–6, first in the NFC Central Division, but lost to the Green Bay Packers. In 1994, they lost to the Packers in the playoffs again. In 1995, they lost to the Philadelphia Eagles, in an embarrassing fashion, 58–37 (entering the fourth quarter, they were down 51–21). In 1997, Detroit lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the first round. In 1999, The Lions closed out the decade reaching the playoffs for the sixth time in a ten-year span, which is a franchise record for playoff appearances during a decade. However, they lost yet again in the first round, this time to the Washington Redskins. Detroit's 1999 playoff berth also marked the second time in Bobby Ross's first three years as head coach that he led the Lions into the postseason. The last Lions head coach to accomplish that feat was Buddy Parker, in 1952–53 during his second and third seasons at the helm.

In 1997, Barry Sanders ran for 2,053 rushing yards. At the time, his career total rushing 15,269 yards was second only to Walter Payton's 16,726 yards and he joined Jim Brown as the only players among the NFL's 50 all-time rushing leaders to average 5 yards a carry, but he retired abruptly after the 1998 season. Emmitt Smith has since broken Payton's record, accumulating 18,355 career rushing yards, which bumped down Sanders to the #3 spot on the list of total career rushing yards.

2000–2008

Detroit Lions logo: 2003–2008
After finishing the 2000–2001 season at 9–7, and missing the playoffs by a field goal in the season's last game, Lions owner William Clay Ford, Sr. hired Matt Millen, a former player and broadcaster, as president and CEO.

The Lions went the entire 2001 (their last season at the Silverdome), 2002 (their first season at Ford Field), and 2003 seasons without a road victory, thus becoming the only team in NFL history not to win on the road for three consecutive seasons. The streak, encompassing 24 games (also an NFL record) came to an end on September 12, 2004, when the Lions defeated the Bears 20–16 at Soldier Fieldmarker in Chicago.

Over seven seasons under Millen's leadership as team president, the Detroit Lions owned the NFL's worst winning percentage (31–81, .277), never had a winning season, never finished higher than third place in the NFC North, and did not play in any post-season games. Millen received a five-year contract extension at the start of the 2005 season.

In 2007, the Lions began the season with a promising 6–2 record. The optimism was short-lived, however, as the team recorded only a single victory in the next eight games, for a final record of 7–9.

2008: The historic 0–16 season

The beginning of the 2008 season was a continuation of the 2007 losing slump, as the Lions were defeated in their first three games. On September 24, Millen was fired. During the 2008 season, the Lions were winless (0–16), becoming the first team in NFL history to lose 16 games in a single season, and thereby winning the right to the first overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.

On December 29, head coach Rod Marinelli was also fired. His record with the Lions was 10–38 in three seasons. Vice president Tom Lewand replaced Millen as president, while assistant general manager Martin Mayhew took over Millen's former duties as general manager.

2009–present

On January 15, 2009, the Lions hired Jim Schwartz as head coach. Schwartz spent 10 seasons with the Tennessee Titans, eight of them as defensive coordinator, helping them compile a 13–3 record and first place in the AFC South in 2008. The Lions also hired a new offensive coordinator (Scott Linehan), and a new defensive coordinator (Gunther Cunningham) soon after.

The Lions selected University of Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford for the #1 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. The six-year contract reportedly contains $41.7 million in guaranteed money (the most guaranteed to any player in NFL history) and carries a total value of up to $78 million.

On September 27, 2009, the Lions broke their 19-game losing streak with a 19–14 win at Ford Fieldmarker against the Washington Redskins.

Logos and uniforms

Detroit Lions uniform: 1999–2002
Detroit Lions uniform: 1991–1998

*blue pants were worn with away jersey in 1998
Detroit Lions uniform: 2003–2008

*75th anniversary jersey was worn during the 2008 season
Aside from a brief change to maroon in 1948 instituted by then head coach Bo McMillin (influenced by his years as coach at Indianamarker), the Lions uniforms have basically remained the same since the team debuted in 1930. The design consists of silver helmets, silver pants, and either blue or white jerseys.

There have been minor changes to the uniform design throughout the years, such as changing the silver stripe patterns on the jersey sleeves, and changing the colors of the jersey numbers. White trim was added to the logo in 1970. In 1998, the team wore blue pants with their white jerseys along with grey socks but dropped that combination after the season. In 1999, the 'TV numbers' on the sleeves were moved to the shoulders.

The shade of blue used for Lions uniforms and logos is officially known as "Honolulu blue," which is supposedly inspired by the color of the waves off the coast of Hawaii. The shade was chosen by Cy Huston, the Lions first vice president and general manager, and of the choice, he said: "They had me looking at so many blues I am blue in the face," Huston said about the selection. "But anyway, it's the kind of blue, I am told, that will match with silver."

In 1994, every NFL team wore 'throwback' jerseys, and the Lions' were similar to the jerseys used during their 1935 championship season. The helmets and pants were solid silver, the jerseys Honolulu blue with silver numbers and the jersey did not have 'TV numbers' on the sleeves. The team wore solid blue socks along with black shoes. The helmets also did not have a logo as helmets were simple leather back then. The Lions also wore '50s-style jerseys during their traditional Thanksgiving Day games from 2001 to 2004 as the NFL encouraged teams to wear throwback jerseys on Thanksgiving Day.

In 2003, the team added black trim to their logo and the jerseys. The face masks on the helmet changed from blue to black with the introduction of the new color. Additionally, an alternate home field jersey which makes black the dominant color (in place of Honolulu Blue) was introduced in 2005.

For 2008, the team dropped the black alternate jerseys in favor of a throwback uniform to commemorate the franchise's 75th anniversary. The throwback uniform became the team's permanent alternate jersey in 2009, replacing the former black alternate.

The Lions officially unveiled new logo designs and uniforms on April 20, 2009. The Lion on the helmet now has a flowing mane and fangs, and the font of "Lions" is more modern.

Notable players

Current roster

Pro Football Hall of Famers



Retired numbers

  • Dutch Clark (7)
  • Barry Sanders (20)
    • Note: The #20 was retired specifically for Sanders, even though the retired number was also worn by RB Billy Sims and DB Lem Barney, both of whom are also among the top all-time Lions at their positions.
  • Bobby Layne (22)
  • Doak Walker (37)
  • Joe Schmidt (56)
    • Note: The #56 was unretired with Schmidt's blessing when the Lions acquired linebacker Pat Swilling from the Saints. No player has worn it since Swilling left.
  • Chuck Hughes (85)
    • Note: Hughes died of a heart attack during a game on October 24, 1971, and his #85 was withdrawn from circulation. However, WR Kevin Johnson wore #85 during his stint in Detroit after asking permission from the Hughes family as he had worn that number throughout his professional career.
  • Corey Smith (93)


Lions Legends

The Lions have a special "program" called Lions Legends that honors noteworthy former players. The current list of legends includes not only the hall of famers listed above, but also the following players, who according to the Lions, "...Created special moments and added to the lore of football in the Motor City.":

Coaches

Current staff

Radio and television

Radio

The Lions' flagship radio stations are WXYT-FMmarker, 97.1 FM, and WXYT-AMmarker, 1270 AM. Dan Miller does play-by-play, Jim Brandstatter does color commentary, and Tony Ortiz provides sideline reports. If a conflict with Detroit Tigers or Detroit Red Wings coverage arises, only WXYT-FM serves as the Lions' flagship. The Lions and WXYT AM/FM renewed their partnership for three more seasons on October 9, 2009.

TV

Preseason

Since 2008, WWJ-TVmarker has been the flagship television station for Lions pre-season games. The announcers are Matt Shepard on play-by-play and Desmond Howard with color commentary. Steve Courtney and Lions Hall of Famermarker Charlie Sanders host the pre-game show and halftime show and provide sideline reports.

Regular season

Regular season games are broadcasted regionally on Fox, except when the Lions play an AFC team in Detroit, in which case the game airs regionally on CBS. The Thanksgiving Classic game in Detroit is always televised nationally on either Fox or CBS, depending on who the visiting team is.

The Lions' official regular season show of record is The Ford Lions Report.

For regular season games vs NFC opponents when Fox doesn't have a double header, WJBKmarker produces a live postgame show.

Blackouts

The Lions' winless performance in 2008 led to several local broadcast blackouts, as local fans did not purchase enough tickets by the 72 hour blackout deadline. In 2008, five of the Lions' final six home games of the season did not sell out, with the Thanksgiving game being the exception. The first blackout in the 7 year history of Ford Fieldmarker was the October 26, 2008 game vs the Washington Redskins. The previous 50 regular season home games had been sellouts. The second home game of the 2009 season in which the Lions broke the losing streak (also against the Washington Redskins was blacked out locally as well.

Games were also often blacked out at the Lions' previous home the 80,000 seat Pontiac Silverdomemarker, despite the success and popularity of Barry Sanders.

Notes and references

  1. Footballresearch
  2. Ironton Tanks history
  3. Footballresearch
  4. Yahoo! Sports December 21, 2008 Lions not only embarrassment in Detroit
  5. http://www.pro-football-reference.com/draft/1980.htm
  6. http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/det/#headtohead
  7. CNN/SI – SI Online – This Week's Issue of Sports Illustrated – SI Flashback: A Lamb Among Lions – Monday December 06, 1999 05:32 PM
  8. Detroit Lions official site – William Clay Ford, Sr. announces several coaching staff changes
  9. The Detroit News January 16, 2009 Lions Pick Schwartz
  10. Detroit negotiated a deal with Stafford on April 24, 2008, less than 24 hours before the draft.
  11. Detroit Lions Site: Ask The Lions
  12. Lions to wear throwback jerseys for 75th anniversary | Freep.com | Detroit Free Press
  13. Detroit News April 20, 2009 Lions' new logo has fangs, flowing mane
  14. Quote from the Lions site about Lions Legends.
  15. Detroit Lions Official Site: Detroit Lions Radio Network Affiliates
  16. Detroit News October 9, 2009 Lions staying with WXYT as flagship station
  17. Detroit News August 6, 2008 Lions will debut on new home station, WWJ-TV
  18. The Detroit News – No Wins, No TV for Lions
  19. Detroit Free Press September 24, 2009 Lions' home game Sunday blacked out locally


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