Detroit Lions, professional football team and one
of four teams in the North Division of the National
Football Conference (NFC) of the National Football
League (NFL). They wear uniforms of blue, silver,
and white. The Detroit team moved from the University
of Detroit Stadium to Briggs Field, home of the baseball
Tigers, in 1938, where they stayed for 37 years. In
1975, the Lions moved into the Pontiac Silverdome
where they played for 37 years. Then in 2002, the
team moved back to downtown Detroit and into a new
domed stadium, Ford Field. The Lions are led by Chairman
William Clay Ford, who in 1964 purchased sole ownership
of the Lions for $4,500,000.
The Lions built a dynasty during the 1950s, capturing
four Western Division crowns and three NFL titles
from 1952 through 1957. (The Super Bowl was not played
until 1967.) During this time, running back John Henry
Johnson, quarterback Bobby Layne, and running back
Doak Walker—all future Hall of Fame members—starred
under coaches Buddy Parker and George Wilson. After
many disappointing seasons from the early 1960s through
the 1980s, Detroit assembled strong teams during the
1990s, reaching the playoffs four times from 1991
to 1995 under head coach Wayne Fontes. Star running
back Barry Sanders recorded nine consecutive 1000-yard
seasons from 1989 to 1997.
The Detroit Lions franchise traces its origin to
the Portsmouth Spartans, a team based in Ohio that
entered the NFL in 1930. In 1932 the Spartans played
in the league’s first postseason game, losing
9-0 to the Chicago Bears. In 1934 the club was sold
to radio station owner George Richards, who moved
the team to Detroit and renamed it the Lions.
In Detroit’s first season, quarterback Dutch
Clark led the team in rushing, passing, and scoring.
The Lions shut out their first 7 opponents and surrendered
a record-low average of 4.5 points per game for the
season, but they failed to qualify for the playoffs.
In 1935 the Lions earned their first NFL title, shutting
out 3 of 12 regular-season opponents and soundly defeating
the New York Giants in the championship game. Ernie
Caddel was the team’s top runner and pass receiver.
In 1940 future United States Supreme Court Justice
Byron White, a running back, topped the league in
rushing and also led the Lions in passing and scoring,
but Detroit remained near the bottom of their division.
Two years later the franchise lost all 11 games of
the 1942 season and scored only 38 points for the
Detroit didn’t return to the postseason until
1952, when head coach Buddy Parker steered the team
to its first of two consecutive NFL titles. Bobby
Layne, a two-time NFL yardage champion, directed a
Lions offense that also starred Doak Walker. The club’s
many defensive standouts included safety Jack Christiansen,
defensive back Yale Lary, and linebacker Joe Schmidt.
Lary also ranked among the league’s finest punters.
The Lions defeated the perennial Eastern Division
powerhouse Cleveland Browns in the championship games
of 1952 and 1953.
Detroit won its third league championship in 1957
under first-year head coach George Wilson. The veteran
Layne was joined on offense by John Henry Johnson.
The Lions once again defeated Cleveland in the championship
game, routing the favored Browns by 45 points.
From 1958 to 1981 Detroit reached the postseason
just once, in 1970. Many players enjoyed individual
success during the period, including defensive backs
Lem Barney and Dick “Night Train” Lane,
tackle (and future actor) Alex Karras, quarterback
Greg Landry, linebacker Mike Lucci, tight end Charlie
Sanders, and wide receiver Pat Studstill. In 1975
the team moved into the Silverdome, the largest air-supported
domed structure in the world.
In 1980 the Lions enjoyed their first winning season
in eight years. Powering the offense was running back
Billy Sims, who was named NFL rookie of the year.
Head coach Monte Clark steered Detroit into the playoffs
in 1982 and 1983. The team’s division title
in 1983 was its first in 26 years.
Head coach Wayne Fontes took the Lions to the postseason
in 1991, as Detroit won a franchise-record 12 games
and played in its first NFC Championship Game. Fontes
won the NFL coach of the year award. Detroit’s
offense in the early and mid-1990s featured Barry
Sanders, who won NFC rushing titles in 1989, 1990,
1994, 1996, and 1997. Detroit made the playoffs in
1993, 1994, and 1995 but lost in the first round each
year. After a poor 1996 season Fontes was replaced
by former San Diego Chargers head coach Bobby Ross.
The Detroit Lions have never played in the Super
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