What's special about the Detroit Lions?

One of the most disconcerting aspects of traveling to a country whose language you don’t know is how the most commonplace things become indecipherable. Ask a stranger for directions and she may think to explain tricky vocabulary but she’ll almost never think to describe whether the place she just referred to is a city, train station, library, cafe, or all of the above. The same is true for sports natives. A thoughtful sports fan should be willing and able to explain a rule, but he’ll almost never think of explaining who a particular team is, what sport they play, or the team’s history and characteristics. In this series, we’ll do just that — describe what is unique about each sports team.

Detroit Lions – the basics

  • Sport – Football
  • League – National Football League (NFL)
  • Conference – National Football Conference (NFC)
  • Division – NFC North
  • History – The Detroit Lions played as the Portsmouth Spartans from Portsmouth, Ohio, for four years from 1930 to 1934 when the team was purchased by a group from Detroit and moved to the city. There the team was renamed the Lions to fit with the city’s baseball team, the Tigers.
  • Championships – Despite having played in the NFL since 1930, the Lions do not have a tradition of success. Although they won four NFL championships, one in 1935 and three in the 1950s, they have never even been to a Super Bowl.
  • Rivals – The Lions maintain rivalries with each of their divisional opponents, the Chicago Bears, the Green Bay Packers, and the Minnesota Vikings — and despite the Lions losing ways, each rivalry has something special to it. The Lions and Packers have the longest running continuous rivalry, having played at least once every year since 1930.

The Detroit Lions are the NFL’s version of the Washington Generals. Unlike the Generals, who are professional stooges to the Harlem Globetrotters, the Lions are actually trying to win. In their long history, they’ve never had a sustained period of extraordinary success. They have had sparkling individual players but have never been able to put all the pieces together to make, much less win, a modern NFL Championship.

Here is the their winning percentage in each season since their inception:

Who are some notable players or figures from the Detroit Lions?

Barry Sanders was every kid’s favorite running back in the mid-1990s. Drafted in 1989 with the third overall pick by the Detroit Lions, Sanders was a pint-sized running back (only 5’8) with moves to spare. He would spend much of the game getting tackled right at the line of scrimmage by the giant defensive players out to get him, only to fake everyone out on one run and score a highlight-reel worthy long touchdown. He was elusive and resilient on the field but an enigma off the field. Never one for putting himself in the spotlight, he stunned the world when he announced he was retiring in 1989 by faxing a letter to his local newspaper. Sanders was a Pro Bowl honoree in all of his ten seasons with the team and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004.

Calvin Johnson has continued the trend of quiet Lions superstars into the 2000s. An immensely talented wide receiver, unlike many of his positional peers, Johnson lets his play speak for him. His nickname is Megatron which nicely relates the type of robotic dominance that Johnson has had over the league since he was drafted number two overall in 2007 by the Lions.

Where do the Detroit Lions play?

The blind date test

Imagine you’re about to go on a blind date and all you know about the person is that he or she is a Detroit Lions fan. Here’s what you can guess about that person. Remember that all fans are unique. We bear no responsibility for any misunderstandings we engender. Trust but verify.

Your date loves lost causes. Time to celebrate!

What will make a Detroit Lions fan squirm?

At this point, Lions fans are so used to losing that the easiest way to get them to squirm is to be really, really positive about their team. The more hopeful things you say, the more squirming you’ll see.

Buy Detroit Lions Swag!

What do the Detroit Lions look like?

Team colors are Honolulu Blue, silver, black, and white. Their current uniforms look like this.

Detroit Lions Uniforms

Current and recent teams

Coming soon — a post about the 2015 Detroit Lions including an overview of their most interesting characters as well as what fans expect from the team this year.

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