If the circumstances of your birth meant that you became a Detroit Lions fan in the 1970s, it wasn’t always pretty. But as a young kid growing up in Michigan who knew very little about football (“What’s a ‘Hail Mary’ pass?), I had no choice but to adopt the Lions as my team. It seemed like everyone else was rooting for them.
I can remember my first “favorite” football player. I didn’t pick him because he was a superstar, I chose him because of his name.
Somewhere about 1976 or 1977 I started to peer up from my tattered copy of the Baseball Encyclopedia in November long enough to watch some football on TV. The announcers seemed to be saying the name “Dexter Bussey” a lot. He must have been important. His name was cool.
Dexter Bussey was a running back for the Detroit Lions from 1974-1984. He had been carrying the ball for them for a few years by the time I was made aware of him. He was, at times, the only offense the sad Lions had. But he wasn’t a star. Often the best “favorite” players are the also-rans (pun intended).
Bussey was drafted out of the University of Texas at Arlington in the third round. He was average size for the NFL (just over 6-foot and 190 pounds) with average speed (he ran a 4.6 40 at his peak), but he made up for it with guts and cunning. And he had that cool name.
“It’s exciting to have the ball in your hand. That’s the way I get myself prepared for a game,” Dexter told Sports Illustrated in 1977. “I hold a ball and then go over in my mind the situations I might be in and think about how I would escape from them. When you’ve got the ball in your hand, you can see things you normally wouldn’t see and you can feel and just sense the pressure.”
In his third season he ran for 858 yards. He was hurt the following year, but in 1978 he squirted his way for a career-best 924 yards. It was a long way from Walter Payton territory, but the Lions (at 7-9) were not one of the elite teams in the league. For much of the 1970s, the Lions were stuck on mediocre, posting records of 6-7, 7-7, 7-7, 6-8, 6-8, and 7-9 from 1973 to 1978. They weren’t miserable enough to get a #draft pick, and just good enough to give Lions fans hope that they might make the playoffs. But they never did, and in 1979 they plummeted to 2-14.
Bussey led the Lions in rushing four times, but that all ended after the ’79 debacle, when the Lions drafted Billy Sims in the first round. Dexter became a fullback alongside Sims, often opening holes for the All-Pro runner. Though he wasn’t running the ball as often as he once had, Bussey still reveled in the competition. In Sims’ rookie season, when the Lions started out 4-0 and started to make music videos, Bussey had 111 yards rushing in week #1 against the Los Angeles Rams, the defending NFC champs, as Detroit romped 41-20.
“I’d rather run toward a defender than away from him,” Bussey stated. “I’d rather watch him make the mistake than have me make it. When you run toward the defender, he’s the one who’s in a sweat. When you run away from him, you give him the angle and leverage so he can catch you. I don’t have the greatest speed in the-world, but I think I have quickness and instinct. I’m constantly cutting across the grain to where the pursuit catches up, and then stepping aside.”
Bussey did just that – stepped aside when Sims arrived in Motown. But he’s still remembered by some, at least by me. After all, he was my first favorite Lion.
2 replies on “Remembering my first favorite Detroit Lion“
Bussey was one of the first Lion names I remember too. Others are Al “Bubba” Baker, David Hill, Leonard Thompson, Eddie Murray, Gary Danielson/Eric Hipple, and, of course, Sims.
Thanks for the memory!
I remember Leonard Thompson! Thanks for sharing, Mark.
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