100 Things Lions Fans Should Know & Do Before They Dieby Paula Pasche
Whether it’s for a die-hard booster from the days of Dick Lane or a new supporter of Matthew Stafford, the top facts and activities concerning the Detroit Lions that all fans need to know and do in their lifetime can be found here. Culled by an area journalist of team history from eight decades, the book collects every essential piece of Lions knowledge and… See more details below
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Whether it’s for a die-hard booster from the days of Dick Lane or a new supporter of Matthew Stafford, the top facts and activities concerning the Detroit Lions that all fans need to know and do in their lifetime can be found here. Culled by an area journalist of team history from eight decades, the book collects every essential piece of Lions knowledge and trivia, including must-do activities, and ranks them all from 1 to 100. Topics cover everything from who scored the first touchdown in franchise history to the members of the Lions Hall of Fame, and even includes the best place to grab a bite in Detroit before the game. This is a treasury of information that true fans might know about their beloved Lions but will love to reminisce over and a guide that will help new fans get up to snuff.
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100 Things Lions Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die
By Paula Pasche
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2012 Paula Pasche
All rights reserved.
Barry Sanders, Face of the Franchise
The 1996 season had been dreadful. It was Wayne Fontes' last, and there was one game remaining — on Monday night in San Francisco. The Lions were flying out from Detroit on Saturday. With a 5–10 record, most players were just going through the motions at practice that Friday.
After practice, Bill Keenist, who was in charge of media relations, went on a search for Barry Sanders who would be named All-Pro the next morning. A national reporter wanted a few comments from Sanders, and Keenist chased down Sanders for the interview.
By the time Keenist arrived at the locker room at the Silverdome, it was empty. But Sanders' clothes were still hanging in his stall, a sign he was somewhere in the building. Keenist looked in the obvious places and then by chance went into the weight room. Only one player was lifting, and it was Barry Sanders.
The running back said he had about 30 minutes left and then would be happy to comply with a few comments. So Keenist left, but when he went back the weight room was dark, the locker room was still empty, and Sanders' clothes still hung in his stall. On a lark, Keenist went down to the field. It was a dreary December, so it was fairly dark on the Silverdome field, but the safety lights provided a bit of illumination.
One player was on the field running sprints. Of course it was Barry Sanders. It should have been no surprise, but it was the end of the season and still Sanders was working hard. Barry Sanders was great because of his on-field, head -spinning, jaw-dropping moves. They didn't happen by accident. Greatness is often achieved in weight rooms and practice fields when no one is watching.
In that game at San Francisco — a 24–14 loss — Sanders carried the ball 28 times for 175 yards and a touchdown.
Sanders set the standard for hard work throughout his 10 seasons with the Lions, a team that had drafted him with the third overall pick at the urging of Coach Wayne Fontes who wanted Barry over another Sanders who was available, Deion.
It almost seems hard to believe now, but prior to the draft there were concerns about his size. Sanders is 5'8", but he was not a small running back. His playing weight was 203, and he carried much of his weight in his thick muscular legs, giving him a low center of gravity.
He won the 1988 Heisman Trophy after shattering records in his three seasons at Oklahoma State. In that season he averaged 7.6 yards a carry and more than 200 yards per game, including four games of more than 300 yards.
The question was: would it translate to the NFL?
Sanders had no trouble making the adjustment. He had worn No. 21 in college but was offered No. 20, the same number worn by former Lions' greats Lem Barney and Billy Sims.
It was clear starting in his rookie season that records or individual accomplishments were not Sanders' goal. In his first season he finished second in rushing yards and could have been first, but he declined to go back into the final game to pick up 10 yards.
Never flashy, when Sanders scored a touchdown — he scored 109 in his career — he would hand the ball back to the official like he'd been there before. He didn't spend money on clothes — his teammates would gently chide him for his fashion choices. One time a carload of local sportswriters were heading into the Silverdome parking lot a few hours before game time and were cut off by a guy in an old blue sedan. It was Sanders.
Sanders was worth the price of admission to every game. He could break through a defense and find space where no one else could. He was tough to tackle, and at times he could embarrass defenses.
The Lions made it to the playoffs during five of Sanders' 10 seasons. His greatest season was in 1997 when he topped the 2,000-yard mark for the first and only time. In his final season he rushed for 1,491 yards, ending his four-year streak of running for more than 1,500 yards.
Sports Illustrated's Paul Zimmerman once wrote of Sanders, "It doesn't matter where the play is blocked; he'll find his own soft spot. ... The scheme doesn't matter with Sanders. He can run from any alignment. While other people are stuck with joints, he seems to have ball bearings in his legs that give him a mechanical advantage. ... Sanders' finest runs often occur when he takes the handoff and, with a couple of moves, turns the line of scrimmage into a broken field. ... Nobody has ever created such turmoil at the point of attack as Sanders has. ... Knock on wood, he seems indestructible."
Weeks before the end of what would be his final season, I wrote a story asking if fans, writers, and coaches had come to take Barry Sanders for granted. At the time he didn't even know how many years he had left on his contract.
Sanders unexpectedly quit football days before training camp for the 1999 season. (See No. 39, page 95). Some fans were angry with their hero. Time, however, has healed most wounds.
Sanders married a local television anchor, Lauren Campbell. Together they have three children and reside in suburban Detroit. When he was not much more than a toddler, Sanders' oldest son, Barry James, would occasionally attend practice at the Silverdome. He looked just like his dad and would get excited to see his dad score a touchdown in practice. It wasn't apparent then, but the son got some of his dad's running back genes. He has committed to play running back at Stanford in 2012.
All these years later, Barry Sanders is still the face of the organization. That could eventually change with the current bunch, but he is still the guy. Barry Sanders still brings back the warmest and fuzziest memories of the Lions.
No one has forgotten how he could run with a football. He was magical.
Barry Sanders' Best Five Games
The Hall of Fame running back posted three career games of 200 yards or more. Here are his top five rushing yard games:
1. 237 yards, 26 attempts — November 13, 1994.
2. 220 yards, 23 attempts — November 24, 1991.
3. 216 yards, 24 attempts — November 23, 1997.
4. 215 yards, 24 attempts — October 12, 1997.
5. 194 yards, 40 attempts — September 19, 1994.CHAPTER 2
The Lions' Diehard Fans
Diehard. Proud. Passionate. Resilient. Eternally optimistic.
Those six words might best describe Detroit Lions fans who have had their hearts broken and dreams dumped on, perhaps more consistently than the fans of any other NFL team.
Still they cheer.
As one fan summed up the past 30 or so years, "Mike Utley, Eric Andolsek, Charles Rogers' two collarbones, Matthew Stafford's shoulder, Barry Sanders' retirement. Only the Lions. Worst part of fandom! I mean seriously ... who gets hit by a truck mowing their lawn? This is crap that only happens to the Lions."
Andolsek, the starting left guard, was killed while weed whacking around the mailbox of his home in Louisiana in June 1992. Utley was paralyzed after a freak on-field play seven months prior. Charles Rogers, a first-round draft pick, was a total bust after breaking his collarbone two years in a row. Sanders retired the day before training camp in 1999.
Then there's the epic, NFL record 0–16 season in 2008. That did send a few fans to the ledge, but most stayed. After all, they could only improve. There is nothing worse than suffering through a season without a single win. Is there?
If the Lions fans can live through all of that, they can face anything. Now that the team is showing signs of a turn-around, the fans are being rewarded with wins. That's all they want, a team that can compete every Sunday and an occasional Monday.
The coaches and players haven't lived through it all like the fans have, but they understand they are lucky to play in a city with such passionate fans. When the Lions clinched a playoff spot with a win over the Chargers on December 24, 2011, Coach Jim Schwartz led the players around the edge of Ford Field for a victory lap where they high-fived the fans and thanked them for their support.
"This town loves a winner, and when things are going well you get a lot of fans and they are real fans, they're not part of that hard-core goup at the center, they're real fans not casual fly-by-night fans, they really care," Lions president Tom Lewand said.
"That's what you see in this area — same thing with the Tigers, same thing with the Red Wings. When things are going well, it's real pride, it's not just bandwagon jumping. There's a real pride in our own product of Detroit doing well," Lewand added.
He uses Kid Rock, who is from Detroit, as an example. Even if people don't like his music, they are Kid Rock fans because they see him as one of Detroit's own who has done well.
"It's why even when we compete with each other, it's a little like the inter-family squabble. I can smack my brother around, but no one else can. That's the approach we've taken historically here. Those of us who are loyal to Ford Motor Company can take shots at General Motors and Chrysler, but once the Japanese start rolling into town, look out," Lewand said. "That's been the case forever, we have a fierce sense of loyalty and a fierce sense of pride in our community. I think sports in general and the Lions in particular embody those characteristics."
Even though Detroit has earned the moniker of Hockeytown because of the Red Wings' success, everyone in town knows Detroit is a football city. If the Lions ever win big and make it to the Super Bowl, this town might just explode with pride.
With the success at the end of 2010 (6–10) and throughout 2011 (10–6 and a trip to the playoffs), the fans are responding. Even though the jobless rate is incredibly high, the Lions sold out every game in 2011 and all but one in 2010.
"I'm not sure there's any other team in town that could have weathered the extended drought we had as well as we did, that's completely because of the support of our fans. As great as the fan base the Red Wings and Tigers have and even the Pistons, it's still not what we have. You can still be in a position to sell out some games when you're 0–16. There are teams in this league that are playoff teams and they can't sell out," Lewand said, using the Cincinnati Bengals as an example. They sold out just two of eight games in 2011.
The Lions are well aware that their fans don't respond to empty rhetoric. They don't want fancy slogans.
"They don't respond well to sales pitches and fancy perfume on the pig, they want the real deal," Lewand said. "They're smart — they see it, they know, you can't fool these people."
All they want is a winner. They've paid their dues, and they are ready for the payoff.CHAPTER 3
Megatron Always a Threat
They call him Megatron. He's a specimen — 6'5" and 236 well-sculpted pounds. Calvin Johnson, the Lions wide receiver, possesses a 45" vertical leap and mitts that were made to catch footballs. He's humble to a fault. When he smiles, his whole face lights up. And he smiles when he catches passes, especially touchdowns.
It was the fourth game in the 2011 season in the glitzy football palace known as Cowboys Stadium. The Lions were threatening, ,and Calvin Johnson saw something in the defense he thought he could exploit. So he caught the eye of quarterback Matthew Stafford and pointed to the roof.
The Dallas defense didn't catch the little hand signal. Stafford saw it and knew that Johnson wanted it thrown high so he could leap above the triple coverage.
"I don't [signal] all the time, if I'm definitely feeling it, yeah, there's been a couple times," Johnson said with a big smile, of course.
He and Stafford can almost read each other's minds. They could become the top quarterback-receiver combination in the NFL. Stafford would love that.
"You'd want to be known as that," Stafford said. "It's not something [where] I'm going to force-feed him the ball. When he gets a good look and gets open, I'm going to try to hit him every time."
When a team mistakenly leaves Johnson in single coverage, they are likely to pay.
Johnson got off to the hottest of starts in 2011 when he caught eight touchdown passes in the first four games, all wins. Still, that didn't impress former NFL receiver Cris Carter, who didn't rank Johnson in his top five NFL receivers early in 2011.
Possibly Johnson's biggest fan, Nate Burleson, sits a few lockers away. While Johnson said he wasn't bothered by Carter's comments, Burleson took offense. "I feel like right now Calvin Johnson is definitely in the top five and arguably the best receiver in the game — at his height, his strength, his ability to jump, there aren't too many receivers that can do what he does, period," Burleson said. "His speed is incredible, he jumps a 45" vertical, he has huge hands, he can bench press 225, as much as linebackers."
Carter also said there was no need to double-team Johnson. Burleson would love for opposing defensive coordinators to take that advice. "If you single-cover Calvin Johnson, I guarantee we'll win nine times out of 10," Burleson said.
Johnson, in his fifth season with the Lions, finally made it to the playoffs in 2011. He was all of that right from the get-go. Johnson hauled in a team-high 12 receptions and set a wild-card record with 211 receiving yards in the loss at New Orleans. He also had a pair of touchdown catches. A month earlier when the Lions lost to the Saints, Johnson had been held to 69 yards.
Big game, big-play C.J. In the final two games, Johnson had 455 receiving yards. He set a personal best with 244 receiving yards at Green Bay in the regular season finale.
Johnson finished the 2011 season (including playoffs) with 1,892 yards, 18 touchdowns, 108 receptions, and an invitation to the Pro Bowl. Those first two stats smashed the Lions' franchise records, and he's tied for second with Brett Perriman for receptions. Herman Moore had 123 in 1995.
It's not surprising that Johnson, a quiet guy off the field, is not too flashy when he scores touchdowns by the pair. In fact, he's developed a habit of spiking the football into the wall behind the end zone. It's no dance, but it's totally Calvin Johnson.
"I think it was excitement, the energy, and basically telling everybody, 'You can't stop me.' I didn't talk to him about it, I was trying to give him some room because he had rage in his eyes at that moment that I wanted no part of," Burleson said, referring to a touchdown against the Cowboys.
Excerpted from 100 Things Lions Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by Paula Pasche. Copyright © 2012 Paula Pasche. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Paula Pasche covers the Lions for the Oakland Press. She won first place for column writing from the Society of Professional Journalists in Detroit (Class B) in 2010 and was the Oakland Press 2010 Staffer of the Year. She lives in Sylvan Lake, Michigan.
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