The Non-Curse of Bobby Layne

For the 125th time … and apparently I have to keep saying this till I’m Honolulu Blue in the face … there IS no “Curse of Bobby Layne.”
And there never was.

Just as politics are the last refuge of scoundrels, the internet is the hideout of dumb-bells.  And no rumor has gotten as much general circulation as the idiotic supposition that the legendary Lions quarterback “cursed” his former team when the Lions traded #22 to the Pittsburgh Steelers two games into the 1958 NFL season.

Yes, the trade came as a huge shock to the town where Layne had ruled as the premier sports figure since he came here in a trade in 1950.  And the Lions had just come off a World’s Championship 1957 season (the pre-expansion equivalent of the Super Bowl), the team’s third such championship in six years and their fourth visit to the season-ending title game in that time.  So the trade of Layne was a stunner, one that echoes down to the present day … for two obvious reasons.  One is that 1957 was the last time the Lions would come close to a league championship, and local fans have suffered through a succession of mostly awful quarterbacks in the 52 years since Bobby last took to the turf at Briggs Stadium.  And secondly, because the franchise — certainly the most entertaining and colorful; arguably the most successful NFL team of the 1950s — was hijacked in the early ’60s by a cruel (ask some former employees) and clueless owner who ran that inherited glory right into the now-dilapidated grounds at Michigan and Trumbull.
Back to Layne and the absurd claim of his “curse.”  About five years ago some doofus from the east side with access to a computer and a website noticed that it was coming onto 50 years since Layne had been peddled by the hometown team.  He pointed out that nearly 50 years of relative failure in Layne’s wake seemed to indicate that a kind of ‘curse’ was attached to the perhaps-foolish trade of the Lions’ bigger-than-life star.  Okay, that was understandable.  But then, guys dumber than the guy who ventured that projection took a look at the internet claim, saw the words “Layne” and “curse,” and with the intelligence God gave a hamster came away with a belief that an actual “curse” had been muttered by Layne when he was informed of the trade.  Some jerk even made up a quote, along the line that “The Lions won’t win again for 50 years now that they’ve traded me!” and posted it on his own idiotic website.  And everybody, seemingly, and suddenly, bought into that quote.  Here and across the country. 
I even saw an expansion on that idiocy on a new website recently, one that shows a picture of a modern jet plane (in 1958 Detroit?) apparently zooming away from our town, and under it the claim that Layne made the infamous statement AS HE WALKED UP THE STAIRS TO ENTER THE PLANE (my capitals, of course, to emphasize the stupidity) to take him to Pittsburgh.  Now we have a fake quote, and a fake location where it was fake-delivered.
Some quick facts.  I was around in ’58, and followed every development surrounding Layne and the Lions.  Better than that, I interviewed Bobby Layne at length  for a magazine bio in 1969.  Layne NEVER said a word about the big trade.  There never was a reaction from him.  Better than that, Layne retained an affection for the city of Detroit, for his former teammates, and for the Lions franchise throughout his life.  He would have never, and I mean NEVER, have wished disaster on buddies like Joe Schmidt (an All-Pro player and team leader in ’58; later the team’s best subsequent head coach) and Jim David and Jack Christiansen and old Texas pals Harley Sewell and Yale Lary — his friends for life.  Guys who carried Bobby’s casket almost 30 years after he was dealt.
These were the guys upon whom he wished disaster?
When I interviewed Layne he was excited about Schmidt’s promising tenure as head coach, saying several times that nothing would please him more than an upcoming  Lions berth in a Super Bowl.  As a scout, Layne had RECOMMENDED (my capitals again, for the dumb guys) then-Lions starting quarterback Greg Landry to the team, selling the Lions on Landry’s dual talents as a passer and runner … the two talents Layne employed (along with electric leadership) to get the Lions their three world titles. 
The Lions were HIS team.  Bobby Layne’s team.  Then and forever.  A team he loved, playing in a city he loved.  If he was cheesed at management — namely then-coach George Wilson — for peddling him, he KEPT IT TO HIMSELF (see above).   He took the trade with class. He cursed no one.  Not a word.  Never happened. 
So no matter how far the fake rumor of his quote and complaint have gone — and they’ve gone ’round the world — and no matter how easily a lie or easy fabrication can take wing on the internet … the truth has to be made known somewhere, somehow.  Here’s one attempt.  Try to keep this in mind the next time you hear some local dipwad, or network football “expert” (often a synonym for dipwad), tell you about The Curse That Never Happened. 
Enough is enough.  Let 22 be remembered for the phenomenal things he did; not for something that never happened.

One reply on “The Non-Curse of Bobby Layne

  • Dan

    Sooo, why are the Lions so effing bad year after year with few exceptions? Why do they seem so good at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory when it counts the most? Why do things happen to them that just don’t happen to any other team?

    Is it because the Fords own them and Great Grandpa Henry played both sides running up to WWII? Is it karmic payback for squandering the talents of Barry Sanders causing him to quit in frustration?

    What’s your excuse for this 55 year long streak of being the league laughingstock?

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