Contribution by: M. Pawlak
The Lion’s franchise birthplace was not Detroit. It wasn’t even in Michigan. In 1930, The Portsmouth Spartans of Portsmouth, Ohio were entered into the NFL (I’m almost content with simply blaming Ohio, and sparing the next 30 minutes of my life, but there’s more) . The team was originally sponsored by the Green Bay Packers. This fact isn’t intended to provoke conspiracy theory, at all. They called University (Spartan) Stadium their home turf from 1930-1933. On September 24, 1930 the Spartans played in the first NFL night game against the Brooklyn Dodgers. The game took place at their home stadium, using portable lights. In 1931, the Spartans challenged the Green Bay Packers for 1st place in the NFL all season, but came up short at 11-3 (Green Bay finished 12-2). In 1932, the Spartans finished tied with the Chicago Bears with a 6-1-4 record. The tie mandated the first ever NFL playoff game, which was held indoors on an 80-yard field in Chicago, because of extreme winter weather. The Spartans fell short on a controversial touchdown pass in which the Bear QB threw, and completed ball from less than 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage for a touchdown. The game winning touchdown. The rule at the time required a QB to be 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage in order to throw. After this play league officials elected to make throwing the forward pass legal from anywhere behind the line of scrimmage. Essentially, they got royally screwed. This rule change opened up the games most dangerous weapon, the passing attack. In 1933 Dick Richards (his parent’s didn’t like him that much) bought the team and moved them to Detroit.
The original Lions uniform was pretty basic, but you can see that the franchise stayed coherent to their history throughout the years. From 1934-1937 the Lions played their home games at the University of Detroit Stadium. In 1934, the first year as the Lions they respectfully finished 2nd in the league at 10-3. In 1935 the Lions won their first NFL championship (7-3-2 record)! In 1938 the team would move to Tiger Stadium, where they would play their home games all the way until 1974. In the late 1930’s and 40’s the Lions achieved limited success on the field. The team was bought by Fred Mandel in 1940. The 1940’s were an especially bad era with an 0-11 season in 1942, 1-10 in 1946, and 2-10 season in 1948 (baby steps). In 1948 Lyle Fife and Edwin Anderson purchased the franchise and they were about to enter their golden-era.
A one year experiment with gold instead of silver in 1950.
In the 1950’s the Lions achieved the most success that they ever would, and likely ever will. Bobby Layne lead the Lions to NFL championships in 1952, 1953, and 1957. Three championships in a decade! Unfortunately, I’m sure anyone who is reading this wasn’t alive during the glory days of the Detroit football Lions. For the sake of history it must be noted that they were once ‘king of the jungle’! The 1960’s would soon kill this team’s buzz, but whats wrong with living in the moment?
The team still tries to tap into the spirit of the 1950’s, with their highly popular Thanksgiving Day, or 1952-1960 helmet (seen above) and uniforms.
In 1961, the franchise became forever destined for failure as William Clay Ford Sr. purchased the team. I’m a fan of the plain white “prancing” Lion over the Honalulu Blue pinstripe’s. Unfortunately the make-over didn’t translate well on to the gridiron. Despite an 11-3 season in 1963, they were mediocre, at best for the rest of the 1960’s.
Some blame it on the curse of Bobby Layne, others the Ford’s. A strong argument can be made that the incorporation of the Lion logo on the helmet (seen above) in 1961-1967 was the beginning of the end for this franchise. In 1968, a slight modification was made to the helmet (seen below) as they added a white pinstripe to the top of the helmet. No success resulted from the modification.
In a desperate attempt to create a fresh image, they also rolled out their very first alternate logo during the 1960’s. This Lion encircled in a blue ring actually looks pretty cool. It appears to be the inspiration of the modern Winnipeg Jets logo:
During this 32 year period the bleeding continued for this football franchise. Losing, and this logo have forever been associated together. The loathing Lions would take their talents’ (or the little that they had) to the Silverdome of Pontiac, MI. This would become their forum for defeat from 1975-2001. Their success during this dry spell included: 4 playoff appearances in 32 years (.125 %), the entrance of Barry Sanders in 1989, and one playoff win in 1991. The 1990’s featured 6 playoff appearances over a 10 year period, with 0 wins. These years are the root of the modern day frustration we are all too familiar with. One slight modification was made to the helmet during the Silverdome era (see Below).
The face mask got a Honalulu Blue paint job in 1983 , and lasted until 2002.
The 1970’s featured the second alternate logo, with this throwback from the 1960’s Lion over pinstripes.
In 2002 the Lions moved their franchise back to the city of Detroit, to Ford Field. They added a black outline to their logo, and were officially bad ass enough to start winning some football games, right? Matt Millen had another agenda. During this 5 year fiasco, not only was losing associated with the Lions logo, outright ridicule was. They went on to win 26 of 80 games played over this 5 year stretch. That’s a .325 win %. They had no playoff appearances, obviously.
Different team, same idea.
2008 marked “rock bottom” as they became the only team in the Super Bowl era to go winless through 16 games. Don’t worry, they also had losing outright covered prior to the Super Bowl era (0-11, 1942). The Leo’s were able to thoroughly master the art of losing like nobody has seen before, and in multiple era’s.
The beginning of the Ford Field era helmet featured a black face mask which has been present from 2003-today.
The current Lions logo has a little spunk, right?! The only problem here is that the (L) gene is still firmly imprinted in this organization’s DNA. The failure to take advantage of high draft picks, play fundamental football, and establish a winning atmosphere leaves us with little to no hope going forward. These truth’s were made perfectly clear during the “collapse of 2013”.
The current helmet looks much tougher than those who have donned it on Sunday’s during the fall.
The Detroit Lion’s organization has come a long way, aesthetically. Due to the systematic process of losing that they have established over an unbelievably long time period, it’s unfortunate they have not come a long way in producing wins. Us fans show up to Ford Field (65,000 deep) knowing that the predictable bitch-slap is going to occur sometime within the next 60 minutes. But we still line up. It’s safe to say those who pay hard-earned coin for a weekly slap in the face, should be honored as the most dedicated fan base in all of sports. Whether we feel honor or not, we can not turn a blind eye to the laughing aimed directly at us from around the league. Jesus walked on water, and new head coach Jim Caldwell will have a similar task at hand in order to turn this thing around. The only question I have to you is: do you believe in miracles?