He’s the golden boy, the big man on campus, and the man the cover of magazines. He directs the offense, is the hero of the great comeback, and goes home with the prettiest cheerleader.
He’s the quarterback.
More than any other position in any sport, the quarterback is the focal point of the team. He’s the general on the field for his team.
Unlike many NFL teams, however, the Detroit Lions haven’t had a history of great quarterbacks. They’ve tried to find that “franchise quarterback” but they have failed almost every time.
Typically, this article would have been titled “The five GREATEST quarterbacks in Lions history”, but the word “greatest” is impossible to assign to more than one Lion quarterback. It’s just silly to try to argue that Erik Kramer was greater than Rodney Peete, for example. Neither of them was great, and few Lion QB’s (with the exception of #1) could be called legendary.
For the purposes of this list, we’re selecting from the more “modern” quarterbacks, that is players from the last 60 years, when the forward pass has been more prominent and the position has become increasingly more important in the offense. In the 1930s, Dutch Clark was an option quarterback in a league where the game was played much different, so it’s very difficult to compare him to Joey Harrington and Matthew Stafford, for example.
5. Eric Hipple
When Hipple tossed for 336 yards and three touchdowns on Monday Night Football in the Lions victory over the Chicago Bears, he passed into cult hero status. he defeated Green Bay the next week and went 6-4 as a starter that season. The husky Texan with the bushy beard became a fan favorite in his nine seasons in the NFL, all with Detroit. He started every game in ’83, when the Lions won the division title, and nearly threw for 3,000 yards two years later.
4. Scott Mitchell
Fans either loved him or hated him, mostly the latter. But he was behind center for a few of the most exciting seasons in franchise history, including three playoff appearances. With Herman Moore, Johnny Morton, and Brett Perriman as targets, Mitchell threw for 4,338 yards and 32 TD’s in 1995. He was immobile, prone to silly mistakes, and less than inspiring, but the big lug could throw the ball. Only Bobby Layne tossed for more yards as a Lion.
3. Gary Danielson
He was the heir apparent to Greg Landry, but despite eight seasons with the Lions, Danielson was the starter only about half the time due to injury. He often racked up good yardage totals, only to lose games because of an interception or poor defensive performance. In 198o, the year of “Another One Bites the Dust,” he was the QB for the 9-7 team that missed the playoffs after a 4-0 start.
2. Greg Landry
As much as any QB the Lions have ever had – until Matthew Stafford – Landry looked like a big time quarterback. At 6’4 and 210 pounds, he was built for the pro game. In his second season, in 1969, he assumed the starting job and held onto it when he was healthy for the rest of the 1970s. He was erratic at time, but in 1970 he led Detroit to their first playoff spot in 13 years. he ranks third in passing yards for Lion QB’s behind Layne and Mitchell.
1. Bobby Layne
It might be hard for younger Lions fans to understand how good the Lions were in the 1950s. But back then, the Lions were like the New England Patriots and Bobby Layne was Tom Brady. Over a six-year stretch from 1952-1957, Layne led the Lions to four NFL title games, winning three times. twice he led the league in passing and attempts, and he fired 26 touchdowns in 1951 to pace the league. He’s easily the best QB to ever wear a Detroit uniform, and for that and many other reasons, he’s in the Hall of Fame.