Detroit Lions’ “Silver Rush” Anchor Doug English Almost Wasn’t

After five seasons in the NFL, Doug English had enough.

Had enough of the losing. Had enough of the physical punishment that he took while losing.

Or so he thought.

English, the defensive tackle from Texas who was the Detroit Lions’ second round draft choice in 1975, was the heart and soul of a defensive line that would come to be known as the “Silver Rush.” He combined with maulers like Dave Pureifory and Bill Gay and Al “Bubba” Baker to form a fearsome front four, to borrow from another legendary line’s moniker.

The Silver Rush had other parts, too—veteran linemen acquired from other teams such as Curley Culp, Mike Fanning, Mike McCoy, Steve Furness and Joe Ehrmann. In their heyday, the Silver Rush terrorized opposing quarterbacks and running backs from 1978 through 1983, before things with the Lions began to unravel yet again.

English was the first to arrive, drafted from the University of Texas—a 6’5″, 275 pound interior lineman with deceptive quickness and equally adept at rushing the passer and stuffing the run game.

But English’s role as the anchor of what would become the Silver Rush almost ended before it really got started.

English was the Lions’ defensive MVP in 1979, a year in which he registered 90 tackles and six sacks. He was coming off his fifth season in the league and he was garnering respect as one of the best DTs in the game.

Except that Doug English played for the Detroit Lions, and as so often has happened with the franchise’s star players over the years, English became disillusioned, frustrated and just plain angry. That gamut of emotions should be familiar to Lions fans.

So after the ’79 season, with the Lions coming off a brutal 2-14 season, English quit football. Five and out.

He was tired of losing on the football field so he thought he’d try winning off it.

Being a Texas kid, English was quite familiar with oil. He knew how much money could be made in the oil game. So he decided to try his hand at it, and thus retired from the NFL before the 1980 season.

Bad timing.

The Lions, thanks to their awful record, were rewarded in the 1980 draft by being able to select a dynamic running back from Oklahoma—a familiar Texas foe—named Billy Sims.

Sims burst onto the scene in 1980, rushing for well over 100 yards in his first two games, and helping to lead the Lions to a stunning 4-0 start.

The Lions captured the city’s fancy. Led by defensive back Jimmy “Spiderman” Allen, some Lions players recorded a twist on Queen’s hit song, “Another One Bites the Dust,” which was released as a 45 (remember those?) and played on all the radio stations in town.

All this while Doug English was back home in Texas, trying to make money in oil.

The 1980 Lions didn’t make the playoffs, fading to a 9-7 record, but they put pro football back on the radar in Detroit.

Down in Texas, a certain “retired” defensive tackle got restless.

It didn’t take much to lure English out of retirement. The spectre of winning was too much for him to resist. At age 27, he still had a lot of football left.

So English returned to the Lions in time for the 1981 season. The Silver Rush was getting back together again.

The ’81 season ended in disappointment, as the Lions suffered their only home loss of the year on the final Sunday, losing to Tampa Bay, which bumped the Lions out of the playoffs.

In 1982, the Lions made the playoffs with a 4-5 record in the truncated strike year. They were promptly squashed by the eventual Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins in the first round.

In 1983, the Lions survived a 1-4 start to win the Central Division with a 9-7 mark and then traveled west to San Francisco for a divisional playoff match, where they lost a heartbreaker, 24-23, when Eddie Murray pushed a 43-yard field goal to the right in the final seconds. A win would have thrust the Lions into the NFC Championship Game.

In each of those three years, Doug English made the Pro Bowl as he led a front four that was no fun to play against on Sunday afternoons.

English also made the Pro Bowl in 1978, when the Silver Rush first began to take shape with the infusion of rookie Baker. The highlight was a Thanksgiving feast the Silver Rush had against the defending AFC Champion Denver Broncos, when the Lions D-line manhandled the Broncos pass protectors and made life miserable for quarterback Craig Morton.

English’s NFL career was cut short after the 1985 season, when a serious neck injury forced him to call it quits. The Lions had switched to the then-popular 3-4 defense, and tried to make English their nose tackle. The extra punishment he took led to the neck injury.

In 2008, English was named to the Lions’ all-time, 75th Anniversary team.

On June 1, it was announced that Doug English would be part of the 2011 class of the College Football Hall of Fame.

But his pro exploits may never have occurred beyond 1979, if that 1980 Lions team hadn’t gone out and won some football games.

It’s funny. English left the game to make a killing, and it was the Lions who struck oil.