In the modern NFL, success is measured in two things. First, by regular season wins and of course, also by postseason triumphs. The Detroit Lions has not have much of either and it’s no big secret.
In the past 30 years, the Lions have only won 193 games out of the 480 they have competed in. That clocks them in at around a 40 percent winning percentage in their last three decades of professional football. They have only two division titles in the same span and have only won their division thrice since their last NFL Championship in 1957, 62 seasons ago. It does not get prettier in the playoffs.
Detroit‘s football team has made nine trips to the postseason over the course of the last 30 seasons. Eight of those nine, they lost in Wild Card games. In the 62 seasons since the 1957 title run, the Lions have only been to the playoffs 12 times and even worse, have only won once. Since the Super Bowl era began, they are one of only two teams to have not won a Lombardi Trophy and the only team to have never made an appearance in the big game.
Although the Lions have definitely seen better days, their unfortunate run in the past six decades is not because of a lack of trying. And with some positive news coming this offseason, hope springs anew in Ford Field. So today, we look back in time and give credit to those who have fought valiantly to bring glory back to the franchise.
Here’s our list of the five best quarterbacks in Detroit Lions history.
Eric Hipple, Greg Danielson
5. Scott Mitchell, 1994-1998
A former fourth-round pick and Dan Marino back-up in Miami, Mitchell did not blow anyone away during his four years with the Lions. Not the most athletic or composed by any means, the 6-foot-6 Utah product was good at one thing under center and that was throwing the ball.
During his short stint in Detroit, Mitchell completed 1,850 passes for a total of 12,647 yards and 79 touchdowns. All his records rank in the top five in Lions’ franchise history. But outside the numbers, Mitchell was still able to lead the team to the postseason three out of his four years.
His failures in those three Wild Card playoff games will always leave a bitter taste but there’s no denying Mitchell was a lot more successful than most of his predecessors.
4. Erik Kramer, 1991-1993
Going undrafted in 1987, Erik Kramer made his way to the Lions in 1991 after a few years in the CFL. Though the least tenured on our list, having only spent three seasons in Detroit, Kramer does hold one thing over all other Detroit quarterbacks in recent history. He’s the only one to win a playoff game.
In the 1991 season, Kramer split quarterback duties with Rodney Peete and Andre Ware. They finished the regular season with a 10-5 record, which was enough to earn them a postseason appearance. The man jokingly known as “Brass,” a nickname he earned after showing extreme boldness his very first start, would go on to lead the team to a victory over the Dallas Cowboys. This was the first playoff win the Lions had in over 40 years.
3. Greg Landry, 1968-1978
Greg Landry, a standout during his time at the University of Massachusetts, was taken 11th by Detroit Lions in the 1968 draft. From there, he would spend the next decade in Michigan. Landry’s pro career wasn’t as impressive as his time in college but he still racked up good numbers. The one-time Pro Bowl selection finished his time in Detroit with totals of 957 completions for 12,451 passing yards and 80 touchdowns.
Landry’s greatest accomplishment in Detroit would be leading them back to the postseason in 1970, the first time in years 13 years and their first playoff game since winning the title over a decade earlier, in 1957.
2. Matthew Stafford, 2009-present
When it comes down to raw talent, stats, and time with the team, there isn’t a shadow of a doubt that Stafford belongs on this list.
Entering his 12th season with Detroit, the former top overall draft pick already owns every single major passing record in Lions history and it’s not even close. Matthew Stafford’s totals as a Lions quarterback are as follows:
3,559 completions, first all-time
41,025 passing yards, first all-time
256 touchdowns, first all-time
Stafford has also led the Lions to the playoffs on three separate occasions, first in 2011, then 2014 and most recently in 2016, the most since Scott Mitchell.
Although he’s never actually won a playoff game, Stafford is only 32 years old and set his career high in passer rating last season. He’s already shown that he’s more than capable and still has time to prove he can win. So why is he only No. 2 on the list?
1. Bobby Layne, 1950-1958
Because of this man, Robert Lawrence Layne.
Drafted third overall by Detroit, Bobby Layne led the Detroit Lions to undoubtedly the franchise’s best decade in history. Throughout the 1950s, Layne and the Lions went to the playoffs four times, winning four Conference titles in the process. Layne’s status in Detroit would be cemented by the three NFL Championships he won with the team. Regrettably, Layne would be traded away after winning their last title. Urban legends claim that Layne cursed the Lions and his sudden departure did begin Detroit’s infamous title drought and series of unfortunate seasons.
Even though Layne comes in second to Stafford statistically, the bottom line is that winning and getting rings still matters the most. And as history would write it so ironically, Detroit’s two best quarterbacks both played their high school ball at Highland Park in Dallas. Let’s just hope that for Stafford and the Lions’ sake, that isn’t all they have in common when all is said and done.