Detroit Lions

Sun, 07 Feb 2010 16:10

The History of the Detroit Lions

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The Detroit Lions is a professional American football team that is part of the National Football League (NFL), America's highest level of professional football.  Currently, the Detroit Lions are owned by William Clay Ford, Sr., with Martin Mayhew as general manager, and Jim Schwartz as head coach.  Throughout the team's long history in the NFL, they have made a total of 14 NFL Playoffs appearances, they have won four division championships, four conference championships and four NFL Championship titles.  Currently, the team plays their home games at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan.  This article will cover the history of the Detroit Lions franchise, including a review of important events and periods in the franchise history.

Detroit football before the Lions

Before the Lions came to Detroit, the city had already had a number of NFL franchises based there.  First on the list were the Detroit Heralds (later renamed the Detroit Tigers), who was already a well-known, premier team that played in Detroit throughout 1910s before they joined the NFL in 1920.  The Heralds played in various leagues, including the NFL, the Ohio League, and the New York Pro Football League before they folded and the team's roster became part of the Buffalo All-Americans in 1921.  In 1925, the Detroit Panthers played in the NFL before they folded one year later.  The Panthers were followed by the Cleveland Bulldogs, which transfered to Detroit in 1928, and was renamed the Detroit Wolverines.  After the 1928 season, the Wolverines were absorbed into the New York Giants roster.

The founding of the Portsmouth Spartans and the humble beginnings of the Detroit Lions

In 1929, the Portsmouth Spartans were formed into an independent team that would go up against some of the well-established and talented independent professional teams in the region.  The Spartans had a successful first season that caught the attention of the NFL.  In 1930, the team became a part of the National Football League.  In their first-ever NFL regular season, the Spartans had a record of 5-6-3.  The following season, the team surprised the league by posting the second-best record in the league at 11 wins and 3 losses.  In 1932, the team posted a 6-2-4 record, which was good enough to get them into the first-ever Playoffs games in NFL history, but they lost to the Chicago Bears.  The year 1933 marked the team's last season as the Portsmouth Spartans, and posted a record of 6-5-0.  Even though the franchise was experiencing great success on the field, they were unable to generate enough revenue to keep the team up and running, especially due to the Great Depression.  Finally, the team would be bought out by the group of George Richards, who was a radio executive based in Detroit.  When the Spartans moved to Detroit, they were renamed to the Lions and so began the long history of the Detroit Lions franchise.

The 1930s and the 1940s for the Detroit Lions

From the time the revitalized Detroit Lions made their debut in the NFL, the team was rolling.  In their first season, they finished second in the Western Division with a record of 10-3-0.  In just their second season as the Lions, the franchise posted a 1935 regular season record of 7-3-2, winning their first-ever Division title and the NFL Championships against the New York Giants.  After winning the championship title, the Lions started to go into a slump, placing second or third in the following six seasons, before a disgraceful 0 win and 11 loss season that put them in fifth place in 1942.

Throughout the rest of the 1940s, the team struggled.  Between 1943 and 1948, placed third once, second twice, and fifth for three consecutive seasons before they climbed back into fourth place in 1949 and 1950.  Their 1950 season showed some promise though, as they posted their first .500 record after four consecutive losing seasons.

Success in the '50's

The Detroit Lions would have great success in the 1950s, as they were led by star quarterback Bobby Layne.  In the 1951 season, the Lions posted a 7-win, 4-loss, 1-tie season to tie for second in the National Conference.  The 1950 and 1951 seasons served as a prelude to the greatness to come for the Lions.  In 1952, the Lions won 9 games, losing only 3, and tying for first place in the NFL National Conference.  The team went on to the National Conference Playoffs against the who they defeated 31-21 to make it to the NFL Championships versus the Cleveland Browns.  They beat the Browns 17-7 to win the 1952 National Football League Championship Title.

The following season, the Lions showed their championship form by posting a regular season record of 10 wins and only 2 losses.  This won them first place in the NFL Western Conference.  For the second consecutive season, they would face the Browns in the NFL Championships and beat them once again to bring the franchise's total championship titles to three.  In 1954, the team posted another great record of 9-2-1 to place first in their conference and make it to the NFL Championships for the third consecutive season.  They faced the Cleveland Browns once again, but this time the Lions were decimated by the Browns, 56-10.

The team struggled in the 1955 season, with a poor outing that resulted in only 3 wins and 9 losses.  After this decline, the team bounced back to a 9-3-0 record in 1956.  Then, they would get back into championship form for the 1957 season.  With a regular season record of 8-4-0, the Lions clinched first place in the Western Division and made it to the playoffs.  They beat the San Francisco 49ers in the Western Conference Playoff, before facing their arch rivals, the Browns, in the NFL Championship game.  The Lions came well-prepared and they destroyed the Browns 59-14 to take their fourth and final NFL Championship title to date.

The decline of the Detroit Lions

After trading Bobby Lane in 1958, the Detroit Lions would fall into a huge slump.  Legend has it that Lane cursed the team, saying that the Lions wouldn't win for 50 years after he was traded from Detroit to Pittsburgh.  Bobby Lane's predictions seems to hold water as the team has struggled ever since to win another championship.  In fact, from the time Lane departed from the Lions up to 1990, the team only made it to the playoffs three times, in 1970, 1982, and 1983.  In 1983, the team won their first division title after 25 seasons.

Shows of hope and the continuation of "the curse" in the 1990s

In 1991, the Lions won the NFL National Football Conference Central Division title with a regular season record of 12-4-0.  They won in the Divisional Playoffs against the Dallas Cowboys before being eliminated by the Washington Redskins in the Conference Championship.  After a dismal 1992 season, the team would once again win a division title in 1993, losing in the Wild Card Playoffs against the Green Bay Packers, who would eliminate them in the Wild Card Playoffs once more in the following season.  In 1995, the team made it to the Wild Card Playoffs for the third consecutive time, but they were eliminated by the Philadelphia Eagles.  They would make it to the Wild Card Playoffs two more times in 1997 and 1999, but they were defeated by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in '97, then by the Redskins in '99.  "The curse of Bobby Lane" seemed to be in full effect.

The Detroit Lions in the 2000s

Throughout the 2000s, the Lions have continued to struggle.  Since the turn of the century, the team has been unable to make it to the NFL Playoffs.  In fact, in the 2008 season, the team became the first NFL team to lose all 16 regular season games.  Now that it has been more than 50 years since Bobby Lane was traded from Detroit, maybe the team can get back into championship form to break the curse and win their first NFL Championship title since 1957.