It’s Super Bowl week again, a time when every red-blooded kid in America is reminded that:
1. He or she can grow up to be President should they so desire. And…
2. Any football fan in the country might someday see the home team in the Super Bowl, unless you live in Detroit.
I’ve suffered longer than most; my first Lions game happened to be on December 29, 1957, when I and my Dad saw the Lions claim their last NFL championship over Cleveland at the late and so-lamented Briggs Stadium, to the nifty tune of 59-14. Having just achieved the age of reason, I can recall the championships of 1952 and 1953, and the ‘almost’ seasons of ’54 and ’56. Following the ’57 celebration, I had every reason to assume that I could grow into adulthood with Lions championships ’round nearly every corner.
But, alas, two major events occcurred shortly after the Browns blowout, which were to change football here for all our lifetimes. Just two regular season games into the ’58 season, the Lions defied history and good sense and traded sparkplug quarterback Bobby Layne, author of those earlier triumphs. And after the 1963 season, the team — which had been run by a conglomerate of local business types –passed into the sole ownership of one William Clay Ford. Thus did the most successful and colorful NFL franchise of the historically crucial decade from ’52 to ’62 plunge into the valley of darkness where it wanders still.
Thus the crazos in New Orleans and Indianapolis (New Orleans? … India–friggin–APOLIS?, is this a joke of some kind?) … are escorted to Football Heaven while we once again — unless you are under 60, with no past to cling to — are left to recall the Good Old Days of the ’50s. Because for the majority of Lions fans, there literally ARE no good old days. 1957 was IT. The end of the line. Just incredible.
Even hairball franchises like the Washington Redskins, doormats of the NFL during the turnaround era of the ’50s and early ’60s, have experienced 5 … FIVE … Super Bowl visitations since the NFL and AFL inaugurated the Big One in 1967. The Redskins? With the dopey marching band and the whacked out owner and drunken businessman reeling on the sidelines in sleazy Indian head-dresses and moccasins? They were out of the running every year of the Golden Age of the ’50s. Yet they’ve made up lost time with those five appearances — and even three victories to boot, in ’82, ’87, and ’91. There’s something said about blind squirrels and acorns. The Lions were NFL royalty when the ‘Skins were running around like drunken chipmunks all those years. But we’ve had nary a nut in all this time here in Detroit.
Okay. If it’s reality that’s holding us back, let’s suspend inconvenient history. Let’s alter a few facts. Tweak an event here and there, play with the fate that has befallen us, and rewrite the record book. I say we can do so by making two adjustments in local NFL lore. Let’s imagine an NFL franchise in Detroit that would benefit but from just a couple of key moves that might have kept the Lions around the top of the pro football pyramid:
1. If William Clay Ford had decided to pursue drinking as the major passion of his life and abandoned the sports world to more sober enthusiasts. Thus, the franchise could have been taken over by local businessman and minority owner Ralph Wilson, who was 42 in 1960. (And who subsequently took Buffalo to four Super Bowls under his direction, but in this scenario we keep old Ralphie — who also adored the Lions in his youth — right here.)
2. The Lions had treated Bobby Layne as the franchise player and athletic magician he clearly was, and held on to him for the duration of his career.
And thus, we might have had, as we enter on the path to yet another Lion-less Super Bowl, a real alternative….
(To Be Continued tomorrow)