Best moments in Detroit Lions history

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<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/ncaaf/players/215729/" data-ylk="slk:Barry Sanders">Barry Sanders</a> is carried off the field in 1997 after becoming just the third running back ever to rush for 2,000 yards in a season. (AP)
Barry Sanders is carried off the field in 1997 after becoming just the third running back ever to rush for 2,000 yards in a season. (AP)

What are the best moments for each NFL franchise? Yahoo Sports provides our opinion, which you are free to disagree with (and we’re sure you will).

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5. LEGENDARY MOMENT FOR BOBBY LAYNE

One of quarterback Bobby Layne’s signature moments in his Hall of Fame career happened in the NFL championship game of 1953 at Briggs Stadium. Down 16-10 with about four minutes left, Layne led an eight-play, 80-yard TD drive in about two minutes against the Cleveland Browns. The drive ended on a 33-yard touchdown pass to Jim Doran with 2:08 remaining. It was Doran’s only scoring grab of the season.

Doak Walker would kick the extra point and the Detroit Lions defense intercepted Otto Graham on Cleveland’s final possession to clinch the victory and Detroit’s second straight title.

This was the Detroit Lions’ golden era and one of their legends provided one of the franchise’s finest moments.

4. MEGATRON’S TRANSFORMATIVE SEASON

Here’s something former Lions general manager Matt Millen got right: He wasn’t trapped by his past draft mistakes, particularly with wide receivers, and trusted his eyes in the evaluation of Calvin Johnson. Four seasons after the 2007 NFL draft, Johnson would enter his prime production years in Detroit, collecting 1,681 receiving yards and 16 TDs in 2011. He followed that with a record season that topped the great Jerry Rice.

In a Monday night game against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 16, Johnson found himself 181 yards short of breaking Rice’s single-season receiving yards record of 1,848, a mark that stood 17 years. Eliminated from the postseason picture at 4-10 entering that evening, Johnson was the only reason Ford Field could boast of having any fans. It didn’t help that the Lions trailed from start to finish that evening, still the faithful stayed and were rewarded.

Johnson broke the record on a 26-yard catch-and-run late in the fourth quarter. It was one of 11 grabs that totaled 225 yards. He fell 36 yards short of 2,000 the following week.

For a man who endured an 0-16 campaign, never was on a winning playoff team and called it a career when it seemed he had plenty left to give, this stands as one of Megatron’s enduring moments. And as one of the franchise’s greats, it ranks among the club’s top moments.

3. A ROAR UNLIKE ANY OTHER

Surprisingly, the hero of Detroit’s lone postseason win since 1957 wasn’t Barry Sanders. It was quarterback Erik Kramer.

In the lead-up to the divisional-round game against the Dallas Cowboys in 1992, much of the talk was about how limited Kramer would be. He ended up having the game of his life, tossing three touchdowns and 341 yards in Detroit’s 38-6 blowout victory.

The Silverdome crowd of 78,000-plus reached a crescendo when Sanders, largely held in check that day, capped the rout with one of his vintage touchdown runs, a 47-yard how’d-he-get-out-of-those-tackles gallop.

It was the last time the Cowboys of Jimmy Johnson, Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin, got embarrassed on a big stage, as their dynasty kick-started the following season.

It was the last time the Lions made any noise in the playoffs.

2. END OF A GOLDEN ERA

“Rebuilding since 1957.”

It’s gallows humor mantra for Lions fans coping with the misery of being a Lions fan.

So what exactly happened in that year?

That was the last time the Lions won a championship in the NFL, concluding a run in the 1950s that included three titles and a league runner-up finish.

On Dec. 29, 1957, quarterback Tobin Rote tossed four touchdown passes and ran for another score as the Lions routed Jim Brown and the Cleveland Browns at Briggs Stadium, 59-14, for Detroit’s last NFL crown. It was payback three years in the running, as Cleveland crushed the Lions in the 1954 title game, 56-10.

The ’57 team featured seven Hall of Famers, including Bobby Layne. The legendary quarterback enhanced the lore of this team after he supposedly put a “curse” on the Lions, who traded him to the Pittsburgh Steelers the summer after the championship. (Layne suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the penultimate regular-season game.)

The hex was supposed to last 50 years. The clock is well past that benchmark.

“Championship” and Lions are rarely paired together. This franchise hasn’t figured out how to be consistent contenders in the Super Bowl era of the NFL. It’s why this 1957 team still has shine in Detroit.

1. THE LION KING

Even in his ninth year as a pro, Barry Sanders found another gear.

Little did we know at the time, it would be his penultimate season in the NFL. That makes the Sunday he hit the 2,000-yard mark in the regular-season finale of 1997 even sweeter.

Sanders wouldn’t have the Super Bowl rings like counterpart Emmitt Smith. (Imagine if he had that offensive line in Dallas, said every Detroiter at least once.) Instead, he’d have to settle for the jaw-dropping runs that made him a highlight-reel god and earn the distinction of becoming the third man to reach 2,000 rushing yards in a season.

Here’s how Sanders made it a Barry Christmas on Dec. 21, 1997, at the Silverdome:

The Lions needed a win against the New York Jets to clinch a playoff berth and Sanders was 131 yards short of 2,000. Detroit secured a tight 13-10 lead late in the fourth quarter, partly on the strength of Sanders’ 129 yards on 21 carries.

Two yards short, Sanders hit the historic mark on a pedestrian run. A referee stopped the game to swap out the football and Sanders’ teammates mobbed him to offer congratulations. The already raucous crowd – which was warned to quiet down earlier in the game or have Detroit penalized a timeout – cranked up to what seemed like a fever pitch.

Instead of heading to the sideline, Sanders stayed in the game with 2:06 left, leaving the mark in danger considering he could’ve lost yardage. The next play, he obliterated that threat, peeling off a 53-yard run to ice the game.

The Silverdome went bonkers, giving Sanders an ovation no Lion has received since. It was in the moment, yet collective, for the years of consistency and grand possibilities that was Sanders.

A roar befitting for the greatest Lion.

 

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