As the Lions enter the 2021-22 season in Year Two of the Plague and the 63rd year if futility under the Curse of Bobby Layne, I thought our scrappy new coach, Dan Campbell, was a breath of fresh air after the dour Matt Patricia with a pencil in his ear and his sorry cast of Bill Bellichek rejects Campbell’s clarion cries for gnawing off kneecaps and “We’re going to change the culture,” was just the sort of chatter that long-suffering Lions fans wanted to hear.
Though the Lions’ defense was awful for three quarters against the 49ers in the opener, Detroit’s stirring fourth quarter comeback showed me Campbell’s squad didn’t give up.
Given a rare appearance on Monday Night Football, the Lions got off to a scrappy start, taking a three-point lead into halftime. But it’s hard to beat Mr. Rodgers in his own neighborhood, especially when your pass defense was a no-show in the second half.
I was awaiting the Lions-Ravens game with trepidation, thinking that LaMarr Jackson would shred our shaky secondary and slither around our lead-footed linebackers. My friend (one of Wayland’s leading bon vivants) thought that we would be turning off the TV in disgust at the end of the first quarter.
But lo and behold, our defenders were covering receivers, tacking running backs and even sacking the elusive Mr. Jackson.
With the clock running down to a minute to play and trailing by two points, our offense was in total control. Mr. Jared Goff was chewing up big chunks of yardage with a short passing game. The Lions had first and goal inside the 10-yard line. One final TD and it’s a nail in the coffin, game over, huge upset win for our Lions and Mr. Campbell.
So what does our fearless leader, Mr. Bite ‘Em in the Kneecaps do? Why, he orders up three rounds of lame, limp-wristed line bucks with a time out chaser, meekly settling for a field goal and a very flimsy 17-16 lead.
After the game, Ravens’ QB Jackson said the Lions timeout really helped his team win the game.
So the Ravens get the ball back with a little under a minute left. Plenty of time to complete one long pass that will get them a chance at a field goal, which they proceed to do on fourth down and 19. On that fateful play, the Lions only rushed three. Mr. Jackson took a leisurely stroll behind his offensive line and hit a wide open receiver for a big gain. A subsequent short pass failed and out trots Mr. Justin Tucker, the NFL’s all-time most accurate field goal kicker.
Mr. Tucker’s 66-yard booming kick hit square in the middle of the crossbar and bounced over. Thus, Mr. Tucker joins the long long list of luminaries who have thrust a dagger into the hearts of long-suffering Lions fans. Too many remember the 63-yard field goal by Tom Dempsey that set the record in 1970.
Thus yet another never-to-be-forgotten chapter is added to the Curse of Bobby Layne.
For those not in the know, Bobby Layne was the Lions’ all-time greatest QB, a hard drinking fast living Texan who refused to wear a helmet with a face guard. Layne was the man who invented the two-minute drill and led the Lions to four NFL championship games, the Lions winning three, the last in 1957.
In those ancient times quarterbacks often called their own plays. Running back Doak Walker once said Bobby never lost a game, he just ran out of time.
You may think that Bobby threw picture perfect passes like Matthew Stafford, but in fact he threw wobbly floaters that legendary Lions announcer Van Patrick called, “wounded ducks.” But somehow, more times than not and especially with the game on the line, those “lame ducks” would wobble into the arms of receivers like Jim Doran.
In October of the 1958 season, Lions coach George Wilson, envious of the fact players took orders from Layne and not him, persuaded the front office to trade him to the Pittsburgh Steelers for Muskegon native and ex-MSU QB Earl Morrall and two draft picks.
A hurt and furious Bobby Layne stormed into the front office and shouted that the Lions would not win another championship for 50 years, and this was born the Curse of Bobby Layne.
Later that season, 1958, the Lions’ record fell to 4-7-1 and the following year plummeted even further to 3-8-1.
Earl Morrall was in and out of the starting lineup for seven or eight years before being traded to the Baltimore Colts, whom he led to the Super Bowl in 1969 and later, in 1973, an undefeated season with the Miami Dolphins.
Another example of futility was a 1960 loss to an upstart American Football League team, the Denver Broncos, in a preseason game.
A much more dire event was the 1971 death on Tiger Stadium turf of wide receiver Chuck Hughes, who became the only NFL player to die on the field during a game.
During the Super Bowl era, the Lions have had only a handful of playoff appearances with only win Wayne Fontes 38-6 drubbing of the Dallas Cowboys and Erik Kramer as the QB in January 1992.
If you go down the long ignominious list of Lions head coaches since George Wilson joined the newly minted Miami Dolphins in 1964, through all the Hudspeths, Rogers, Mooches, Marinellis, et al, only interim coach Dick Jauron was named head coach of another NFL team, a brief unsuccessful stint with the Buffalo Bills.
To mark the 50th anniversary of the curse, the Detroit Lions had their now infamous perfect season, going 4-0 in exhibition games and then 0-16 in the regular season, thus becoming the team to record zero wins and 16 losses in a season, a mark we sadly now must share with the Cleveland Browns.
During that historic 50th anniversary season, the Detroit Free Press interviewed seven of Layne’s former teammates, including past head coach Joe Schmidt, who all swore that the curse was real.
As the Ravens’ game proves once again, the Curse of Bobby Layne is real and is now going stronger than ever in its 63rd year, threatening to someday eclipse the Curse of the Billy Goat which marked 108 years of futility for the Chicago Cubs, from 1908 to 2016.
The curse is so strong that when Texas Wonderkind QB Matthew Stafford emerged from Bobby’s old high school, even his rifle arm and perfect spirals couldn’t take our Lions to the Promised Land. In Mr. Stafford’s defense, his offensive line, was, well, offensive. And he was often left scrambling for his life and sacked many a time.
Through all the 63 years of feckless football futility, it should be noted that William Clay Ford purchased ownership of the Lions on the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Since that fateful day, the Ford family has been the one constant.
From the Matt Millens to the Bob Quinns, from first-round draft flops such as Andre Ware, Charles Rogers and Chuck Long, to the early retirements of our two greatest players, Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson, through all the last-minute losses and crushed dreams, the Curse of Bobby Layne marches on and on.
The Ford family has one playoff victory on its resume. This is what the Ford family has given us, dear Lions fans.
Being the magnanimous fellow that I am, I am willing to forgive Mr. Campbell for one faint-hearted series of play calls. Give this man this season and one more to teach our Toothless Tabbies how to gnaw on kneecaps.
But if the Lions’ culture of canceling playoff appearances continues, I say that change is long overdue. Lions fans must rise up as one and demand the Ford family sell the team to the Sam Bernstein family. Sam could be the GM and his Supreme Court Justice son Richard could be the head coach.
Whattaya say, fans???