The Detroit Lions history hasn’t been marked by a lot of success, but they have still had some great players and teams in their past. From Barry Sanders running wild to some spectacular seasons by Calvin Johnson, there have been moments that have stood out above the rest, but which rank at the top?
Let’s look at the five greatest moments in Lions history.
5. Matt Millen is given the boot
Not often is one of the best moments in a team’s history a firing, but that is the case with the Lions. In September 2008, the Lions decided to move on from team president (and essentially general manager) Matt Millen after seven years with the franchise. After taking over in 2001, Millen led the Lions to only 31 wins in 115 games.
Even though the Lions still haven’t found a lot of success since then, it was still the right move that needed to be done at that time and served to remove someone from the organization who was not suited for his position.
4. Stafford’s fake spike
Week 8 of the 2013 season was special for the Lions for a couple of reasons. The Lions were hosting the Dallas Cowboys and they were looking to win their fifth game of the season. To start, Calvin Johnson had one of the best games for a receiver in NFL history, hauling in 14 passes for 329 yards and a touchdown.
As impressive as the game was for Johnson, he was overshadowed by what quarterback Matthew Stafford did with time winding down and the Lions trailing by six points.
After completing a pass to Johnson and the clock ticking away, Stafford came up to the line of scrimmage as though he wanted to spike the ball. The Cowboys defense seemed to accept that, but instead of spiking it, Stafford dove across the line of scrimmage into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown. After the game, Stafford said he was the only one in that stadium that knew that he wasn’t going to be spiking it. Via USA Today:
“I told everybody I was spiking it. I was screaming clock, I was going to spike it. It was a feel thing. I was yelling, ‘Spike.’ They knew I was yelling spike. I saw linebackers kind of standing like this [back off the line of scrimmage]. Our guys didn’t fire off, they just stood up but I looked dow,n and we were that far, shoot I’m going to figure I’ll get that. So I just need to go — shoot, I don’t know, I was making a play, man. I was trying to help my team win and sure am glad I got across.”
3. Lions beat Cowboys in playoffs
The Lions haven’t had a lot of playoff success, so every game they win past the regular season has been a big accomplishment. The headlines coming into the NFC Divisional round game in the 1991 season game were all about Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman and running back Emmitt Smith going against Lions back Barry Sanders.
But after the game, everyone was talking about Lions quarterback Erik Kramer, who had one of the best games of his career. Kramer finished the game throwing for 341 yards and three touchdowns. The Lions won the game, 38-6.
2. Barry Sanders’ 2,000 yard season
Barry Sanders’ time with the Lions might not have ended in the most spectacular way, but he provided a lot of great memories during his tenure as the team’s most legendary running back. Sanders’ best season was in 1997 when he rushed 355 times for 2,053 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The most impressive part about reaching 2,000 yards was the way that Sanders started the season. In Week 1, he only rushed for 33 yards and in Week 2, it was even lower, with only 20 yards rushing. He quickly reversed course, and by Week 7 he rushed for 215 yards and two touchdowns. Sanders is considered by many the best running back in NFL history, and his best season was unquestionably in 1997.
1. Matthew Stafford rises from the dead
The 2009 season wasn’t a notably successful one for the Lions, but there was one moment that stands out above the rest. The Lions were down by six points to the Cleveland Browns with eight seconds remaining and the ball on the 32-yard line. Stafford scrambled, but couldn’t find anyone open, so he slung it into the end zone and the ball was picked off. The game looked to be over, but the Browns were flagged for pass interference.
After throwing that pass, Browns defensive lineman C.J. Mosley landed on Stafford, directly on the quarterback’s shoulder. It looked like Stafford’s game was over, and that the Lions would be without him for the final play as they tried to secure a win.
Stafford needed help from team doctors to get up, but he somehow made his way back onto the field. He then found Brandon Pettigrew in the end zone for a game-winning touchdown. Even though the Lions only won two games that season, this was the one in which most fans really fell in love with Stafford.