It’s one of those statistical anomalies that always makes for some fun excavating of the record books. Going into Sunday night’s game at Green Bay, Calvin Johnson is riding a streak of five straight games with 125 or more yards receiving. Only one other pro receiver has ever pulled that off. One more buck-and-a-quarter performance, and Megatron will set a new National Football league record for consecutive 125-yard games.
One would think that with all the superlative receivers the NFL has showcased over the years, especially in the pitch-and-catch era of the last decade, somebody would have put together a similar streak. Some guy like Lance Alworth, Don Maynard, Jerry Rice, Randy Moss, Marvin Harrison, Terrell Owens, or Wes Welker. But then, one would be wrong.
No, the man Calvin Johnson currently shares the NFL record with is the Lions’ own Pat Studstill.
It’s the strangest thing. While the versatile Studstill enjoyed a solid career as a kick returner, punter, and receiver with the Lions, Rams, and Patriots between 1961 and 1972, he had only one truly great season. That was in 1966, when the willowy 28-year-old flanker ripped off his record-setting five-game stretch in the middle of another dismal season under head coach Harry Gilmer.
What makes Studstill’s feat even more remarkable is that, prior to the start of his streak, he had never enjoyed a single 100-yard game as a receiver, much less 125! Not one in his first 58 NFL games. And after 1966, he reached the century mark only one more time, though his career still had six full seasons to run.
What happened in 1966?
For starters, starting flanker Terry Barr had retired after the ’65 season, opening up room for Studstill to play regularly. Also, opposing defenses still regarded Gail Cogdill as the Lions’ most dangerous receiver; double-teaming the speedy end meant Studstill had more opportunities to get open. Finally, the lowly Lions often played catch-up, meaning more pass attempts from quarterbacks Milt Plum and Karl Sweetan.
Sweetan had started the season as a member of the semipro Pontiac Arrows. Studstill became his favorite target. “He would stand in that pocket and throw the ball,” Studstill remembered. “We just clicked, that’s all. We didn’t have a lot in common off the field. But on the field, I was his man in ‘66.”
Studstill began his breakout season in ordinary style, nabbing three catches in each of the first three games. He warmed up in game four, a loss at Green Bay, snatching five passes for 89 yards. But beginning in game five, Studstill took off—literally. In a 14-7 home loss to Los Angeles on October 9, Studstill caught six balls for 142 yards. It was the beginning of a remarkable five-week performance that would earn him a berth in the Pro Bowl.
On October 16 at Baltimore, Studstill caught six passes for 141 yards and the Lions’ only two touchdowns in a 45-14 loss to the Colts. A week later at San Francisco, he nabbed four passes for 128 yards and another touchdown in a 27-24 loss to the 49ers. On October 30, Studstill racked up 164 yards on seven grabs during a 31-7 drubbing at the hands of the Packers at Tiger Stadium. The following Sunday, he had seven receptions for 125 yards in a 10-10 tie at Chicago.
The streak of 125-yard games came to an end on November 13. In a wild 32-31 win at Minnesota, Studstill hauled in a career-high nine passes, good for 116 yards. Although his production tailed off as defenses learned to key on him, Studstill wound up the year with 67 catches and a league-best (and new Lions record) 1,266 receiving yards. He might have led the league in receptions, too, but a knee injury caused Studstill to sit out most of the final game. Washington’s Charley Taylor caught eight passes on the last Sunday of the season to overhaul him in that category.
Studstill’s streak included a record reception. In the fourth quarter of their loss at Baltimore, the Lions had the ball on their own one-foot line. Sweetan asked Studstill, “Have you got enough speed to run it up on this back?”
“Hell, yes,” Studstill said. “I can run it up.”
“Sweetan hit me on a cross pattern, and I just ran over the middle,” Studstill recalled. “I caught it and ran about 60 yards for the TD. It totaled out at 99 yards. It’s been tied since then, and somebody set it before me. But it can never be broken. You can’t have a pass go longer than 99 yards.”