Our Detroit Lions joined the NFL for the 1930 season. But, our history begins in Portsmouth, Ohio in 1929. The Spartans played as an independent organization against other teams in the area. But, due to the Great Depression, the other teams folded and the Spartans joined the NFL for the following season. It wasn’t until 1934 that the team was purchased for $8,000 dollars, moved to Detroit and renamed the Lions. This was the fourth attempt at bringing pro football into our city. Three previous teams in the 1920’s were failed ventures.
The early Detroit Lions were a huge success and found a home at the University of Detroit Stadium. Rich with talent like charter member Hall of Famer, Dutch Clark, the Lions won a NFL Championship in just their second year. It was also during these early years in Detroit that the Thanksgiving Day Game was established. This tradition still goes on today, as many of us Michiganders have passed it on to our children and wear it as a badge of pride. It’s the Detroit Super Bowl!
The 1950’s were by far our Glory Years. In those days we had future Hall of Famers Bobby Layne, Doak Walker, Lou Creekmur and Jack Christiansen ruling the gridiron. Together, as a team, the Honalulu Blue won 3 NFL Championships and 4 Division titles. 1957 was our last Championship and then the drought would begin. Detroit would house great players over the years like Joe Schmidt, Lem Barney, Yale Lary , Dick “Night Train” Lane, Desmond Howard and of course Barry Sanders, we still have not won another NFL Championship, now called a Super Bowl. The NFL, in 1967, was merging with another league, the AFL, and from that merger was born the Super Bowl. The winner of the NFC would play the winner of the AFC to decide who was league best. Since the Super Bowl’s induction, the Lions are one of four teams who have not once even qualified to play in the Championship Game. The Lions rank as the longest tenured NFL team without an appearance in that game.
We did manage to gather a tiny bit of steam and get a playoff via the wild card in 1970 and again in 1982. We followed that up with a Division Championship in 1983. Then, we roared back in the early 1990’s under head coach Wayne Fontes. In 1991 and 1993 we won two more Divisional Titles. Heck, in 1993, with a 12-4 record, we went all the way to the Conference Championship but were blown out by the Redskins at RFK 41-10. We ‘ won a playoff game since the second round of 1991 and we haven’t been back to the Playoffs since Bobby Ross coached the team in 1999. The Lions also hold the dubious record of being the only team in NFL history to go 0-16. They accomplished this feat under the direction of GM Matt Millen who, after 7 years at helm, compiled a 31-97 record.
Since 1964, the Lions have been guided by William Clay Ford. He purchased the team for about $4.5 million dollars. The Lions have called the University of Detroit Stadium home, followed by Briggs (Tiger Stadium) in 1937 where they played for 37 years. In 1975, they moved out of the city of Detroit to Pontiac, Michigan. There, they played in the 70,000+ capacity Silverdome until they returned to the city of Detroit in 2002, calling Ford Field home.
Being a Detroit Lions fan is a tough job! We are constantly made fun of in the national media and by other football fans. We are consistenly picked at the bottom. All of our other teams in Detroit or the state of Michigan have had much more success. But, with that being said, you can also say that Lions fans are loyal and true to thier team. Who else would suffer for decades and still pack Ford Field or the Silverdome to see a game? Who else would risk being seen in public with their team’s logo on their apparel? We take pride in our Lions! We have worn bags over our heads at games and organized the Millen Man March to try to make changes within the organization. We have seen some bonehead personnel moves, some stupid plays and a horrid case a bad luck for the past 50+ years. We are a family and we stick by our team. We will rise again to be Kings of the Jungle one day. But, for now, we enjoy our turkey on Thanksgiving and hope to not get beaten down too badly!