Love ’em or hate ’em, the Detroit Lions are the city’s only professional football franchise. The team currently resides just a luxury sedan or limo ride away at Ford Field, located in downtown Detroit. Here are some team historical highlights:
The Lions weren’t Detroit’s first pro football team. In 1920, the Detroit Heralds were a charter member of the American Professional Football Association, but the franchise folded after two years. Then the Detroit Panthers formed in 1925, but that team also folded after two seasons. In 1928, the Detroit Wolverines were formed, but they failed after only one year. Finally, Detroit welcomed the Lions in 1934. The team originated in Ohio and was purchased for $7,952.08 by a group headed by Detroit radio executive George A. Richards and then moved to Motown.
The Lions played in the University of Detroit Stadium before average crowds of 16,000 people. The new Detroit Lions won the NFL Championship in only their second year in 1935. Under Coach “Potsy” Clark and stars like Hall of Famer “Dutch” Clark, Ernie Caddel, George Christensen, “Ace” Gutowsky,
Glenn Presnell and “Ox” Emerson, the early Lions established pro football in Detroit.
In 1940, Chicagoan Fred Mandel bought the club. The team was sold eight years later to a group of local businessmen under the leadership of Edwin J. Anderson. The Detroit syndicate controlled the club until 1964, when William Clay Ford became sole owner for a price of $4.5 million…
The Lions dominated in the 1950s with four division titles and three league championships. Under head coach Buddy Parker, the team won back-to-back world crowns in 1952-53, defeating Cleveland on both occasions. The Detroit-Cleveland battles of the era were classic confrontations between two giants of the blossoming NFL.
In 1967, Schmidt began the first of six seasons as head coach of the Lions. His 1970 team made the playoffs, (first post-season trip since ’57) but lost in the first round to Dallas by the baseball-like score of 5-0.
During the 1974 season, the Lions moved into a new, domed stadium, the Silverdome, in Pontiac, Michigan, a suburb located 30 miles north of Detroit. It remains the world’s largest air-supported domed structure and seats over 80,000 spectators under a fiberglass roof.
Monte Clark took control of all football operations as head coach in 1978. Under Clark’s direction, the Lions narrowly missed playoff berths in 1980-81, before qualifying in 1982 — the Lions’ first playoff appearance since 1970.
Darryl Rogers replaced Clark in 1985 but was replaced on an interim basis by his defensive coordinator, Wayne Fontes, in November 1988, after Rogers’ teams had posted a combined 18-40 record. Fontes officially was named the 17th head coach of the Detroit Lions on December 22, 1988.
The Lions “Restored the Roar” in 1991, winning a franchise-record 12 regular season games. Riding a tide of emotion after guard Mike Utley’s paralyzing neck injury, Detroit defeated Dallas, 38-6, in the Lions’ first Silverdome playoff contest. The victory gave the Lions a berth in the NFC Championship Game, where they were defeated Super Bowl Champion Washington Redskins.
The Lions finished 10-6 in 1993 en route to capturing the NFC Central Division title, and earned a wild-card playoff bid in 1994. The 1995 Lions featured the NFL’s top-rated offense and won their final seven games to earn a third straight playoff berth.
In 1996, running back Barry Sanders captured his third NFL rushing title with a dramatic 175-yard outburst on the final Monday night of the season in San Francisco.
Bobby Ross was named the 18th head coach in team history January 13, 1997, and led the club back to the playoffs in his inaugural year at the helm with a 9-7 record. That season, Sanders continued his storybook career by becoming only the third player in league history to record 2,000 yards rushing in a single-season (2,053) and he reeled off an NFL record 14 consecutive 100-yard outings to finish the season.
After nine games into the 2002 season and compiling a 5-4 record, Bobby Ross abruptly resigned as head coach November 6 and was immediately replaced by Gary Moeller. Moeller guided the team to a 4-3 record over the last seven games, but narrowly missed the playoffs with a loss to the Chicago Bears in the season finale. Following the season, William Clay Ford named Matt Millen President and CEO and he assumed control of team operations. On January 25, 2001, Gary Moeller was replaced as head coach by former San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.
In 2002, Detroit opened Ford Field, the $500 million downtown stadium. Following the two worst back-to-back seasons in Lions’ history, team management fired Marty Mornhinweg, who compiled a 5-27 mark over the two years. The Lions then hired former San Francisco 49ers head coach and Michigan native Steve Mariucci as their 22nd head coach.
During his third season in Detroit, Mariucci and his Lions held a 4-7 record after their Thanksgiving Day loss against Atlanta. Millen then released Mariucci and named defensive coordinator Dick Jauron as the interim head coach. Detroit finished the season 5-11 and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive line/assistant head coach Rod Marinelli was named the 24th Lions’ coach in franchise history on January 19, 2006.