Fast Fact: As a franchise, the Detroit Lions have 4 NFL championships to their credit, ranking 8th in the league for most total championships [Green Bay (12), Chicago (9), New York Giants (7), Pittsburgh (6), Dallas, Washington, & San Francisco (5), Detroit and Baltimore/Indy Colts (4)]. Since winning their last championship in 1957, they traded their star quarterback and have not been back to the championship game since, winning only one playoff game in 1991.
I'm used to the Lions being bad. Outside of Barry Sanders, this team has given me no reason to hope they could turn their bad fortunes around. That's OK though, since as any Buffalo sports fan will tell you, "losing builds loyalty in a fan base."
But the one thing that really disappointed me about the Lions is that they lacked the mystique of a "curse" like other historic losing franchises. Take the Boston Red Sox (who have completely lost their appeal to me since winning not one but TWO World Series in the 00s) who had the Curse of the Bambino. Or the Chicago Cubs who had that crazy old man's hex he allegedly put on the team when they wouldn't let his Billy Goat into the stadium in 1945. And the Philadelphia Phillies only recently returned to World Series success after lifting the Curse of William Penn before this season started.
I always wanted the Lions to have their own curse. I kicked around the idea of a Barry Sanders Curse since he immediately retired prior to the 1999 season after Detroit refused to trade him a season shy of breaking the all-time NFL rushing record. But that doesn't answer the problem of why they have never been to a Superbowl since its inception in 1967.
Now, I have an answer, if Wikipedia is to be trusted, that is. The Curse of Bobby Layne:
Detroit enjoyed its greatest success in the 1950s. Led by quarterback Bobby Layne, and wide receiver [Jim Doran] they won the league championship in 1952, 1953, and 1957. They defeated the Cleveland Browns in each of those NFL Championship Games, but also lost to the Browns in the 1954 Championship Game.
In 1958, after leading the Lions to 3 NFL Championships and providing Detroit nearly a decade of Hall of Fame play, the Lions traded Bobby Layne. Bobby was injured during the last championship season and the Lions thought he was through and wanted to get what they could for him. According to legend, as he was leaving for Pittsburgh, Bobby said that Detroit "would not win for 50 years". Since this time, the Lions have not won another championship and have only a single playoff game win. Some have attributed the Lion's subsequent 49 years of futility to the "Curse of Bobby Layne.
Notably, the Lions succeeded in one of the greatest comeback victories in NFL post-season history. Trailing the San Francisco 49ers 27-7 in the 3rd quarter of the 1957 Western Conference Playoff game, Lions quarterback Tobin Rote rallied the team back with 24 unanswered points to beat the 49ers 31-27 at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco. The Lions have experienced only one post-season win since.
Appropriately, it seems Detroit has been cursed at the quarterback position. Detroit has an obsession with drafting talented wide receivers with no one to throw to them on a consistent basis. They've tried the likes of Scott Mitchell (I knew it was bad when Sports Illustrated felt the need to commend him for actually throwing spiral passes in training camp), Charlie "I liked to run until I got injured" Batch, Joey "I'm gonna bring back the winning culture" Harrington, John "I like to dress up as my naked coach who went to Wendy's" Kitna, and now a whole slew of has-beens and never-wills in 2008.
But remember, the Curse of Bobby Layne stipulated that Detroit would not win for 50 years. That hex was established in 1958. Perhaps it is fitting that the Lions look like a shoe-in for an 0-16 season in 2008. Their quarterback situation is so epically bad that some people honestly believe Allen Iverson is the best potential quarterback living in Detroit.
It has been 50 years since this Curse was issued. Come 2009, it will officially expire. Granted, there may still be a Barry Sanders Curse in effect, but don't be surprised if we see the Lions near the top of the NFL pile come next season. Remember, you heard it here first. (Too bad Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy aren't due to enter the draft until after next year, but you never know.)