It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years since the “thumbs up”. But it has been.
Twenty years ago, back in 1991, in Week #12 of the NFL season, the Detroit Lions and their fans were stunned when their young offensive guard Mike Utley was carried from the field after suffering an injury on a routine play. As he lay on the stretcher, strapped down and immobilized, he moved one of the few parts of his body that was unfettered – his right hand. Utley gave a thumbs up to the crowd and his teammates as he was carted off the Silverdome field in Pontiac.
He would never play football again, and shortly after it would be revealed that he was paralyzed from the chest down.
In that game against the Los Angeles Rams, the Lions won 21-10 to improve their record to 7-4. Spurred on by Utley’s inspiring gesture as he was led off the field, the Lions went on to defeat the Vikings in Minnesota, the Bears and Jets at home, and then went to Green Bay and beat the Packers, 21-17.
In the final week of the season the Lions traveled to Buffalo to face the Bills, one of the best teams in the league.
In a game that would prove to be one of the most thrilling in franchise history, the Lions battled back and tied the game 14-14. In overtime the Lions weathered the enemy fans and frigid Buffalo weather and maneuvered into field goal position. In what would prove to be his final regular season kick, Eddie Murray sent the ball through the uprights and won the game 17-14. The win made it six straight since Utley’s injury. With fans and players waving and wearing “Thumbs Up for Mike” shirts, the team set a franchise record with 12 victories.
By this time, Utley was sitting up in his hospital bed and displaying amazing good spirits considering his circumstances.
Two weeks later the Lions pummeled the Dallas Cowboys, 38-6 in the first round of the playoffs. They would finally lose to the Washington Redskins in the NFC Championship game, but the amazing winning streak that grew out of a tragic injury to one of their own, will never be forgotten.
Today, Utley heads the Mike Utley “Thumbs Up” Foundation, which helps raise money to fund research into spinal cord injuries.
2 replies on “20 years ago: When the Lions kept winning for Mike Utley“
Mike & Dani Utley
Thanks Dan for doing such a nice article and mentioning the Mike Utley Foundation! Go Lions!
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