The Detroit Lions have been known in the latter part of the 20th century and early in the 21st for futility. In a poll conducted in 2008, over 90% of Americans believed that the Detroit Lions should be dropped from hosting the nationally televised Thanksgiving Day game. This is how far the Lions have fallen.
But, in the 1950’s the Lions were a dynasty. On, December 28, 1952, they claimed their first NFL title in 17 years with a 17-7 win over the Browns. They won their second consecutive title on December 27, 1953 by again beating the Browns, 17-16. They reached the championship game for the third year in a row on December 26, 1954, but were crushed by Cleveland, 56-10
The Lions would once again return to the peak of the NFL world in 1957 in what was arguably the most spectacular year. Before the season started, they were stunned by the resignation of the coach, Buddy Parker, who predicted doom for the team, who he felt were under-motivated in the preseason. He was replaced by George Wilson.
The Lions lost the first game of the season to a young, up and coming Baltimore Colts team. After winning the next three, they lost back-to-back West Coast games to Los Angeles and San Francisco. They won the next two and then lost to the Chicago Bears in week nine. The season appeared to be a mediocre one at that point. And, although they won the next week at Green Bay, they suffered the loss of starting quarterback, Bobby Layne, during a 20-7 win against the Browns in week 11. The final week of the season, they would face the Chicago Bears behind Layne’s replacement, Tobin Rote. They met Chicago at Wrigley Field, where they had never won. Entering the game, they were in a three way tie for first in the Western Conference with the San Francisco 49ers and the Colts. The next three weeks would be magical in the annals of the franchise’s history.
Detroit's 2nd Half Assault Beats Bears
Tobin Rote Directs 21 to 13 Victory
Chicago, Dec. 16 (AP) The Detroit Lions broke a four-year Chicago Jinx Sunday. They whipped the Chicago Bears and earned a tie for the Western conference championship of the National Football League.
Crippled, scoreless and trailing by 10 points at the half, the determined Lions suddenly took command and battered through the Bear defense for a chips-down, 21-13 victory. It was the first time Detroit has defeated the Bears in Wrigley field since 1953.
The Lions will meet the San Francisco 49ers in a playoff game at San Francisco Sunday. The 49ers remained in the running with a 27-20 home victory over the Green Bay Packers.
The Lions played their first game without Bobby Layne, who fractured an ankle last week. Tobin Rote assumed the quarterback burden and threw one touchdown pass.
The Bears toyed with the visitors in the first half to the cheers of 41,088 fans. While the Chicago defense held Detroit's rushing to 13 yards, George Blanda kicked a first quarter, 22-yard field goal and Ed Brown rocketed a 44-yard pass to Bobby Watkins from a spread formation in the second. Watkins bounded across the goal from the 30- yard line.
Detroit loosed a determined assault in the third quarter, scoring adroitly the first two times it took possession. Then with the game already on ice, the Detroiters added an insurance touchdown in the final 30 seconds.
Coach George Wilson of the Lions credited his team's comeback to a sudden recovery from a case of jitters.
"The team was tight when the game started and they didn't come out of it until the half was over," he said. "It was a big one for us and we knew we had to win it."
Howard (Hopalong) Cassady sparked Detroit's third-quarter surge. He made a three-yard touchdown sweep around end to cap an 80 yard drive in nine plays. Later in the period he added vital yardage in a 63-yard surge which ended with Rote's nine-yard touchdown pass to Dave Middleton.
Hopalong Cassady (right) breaks away from Bears' Joe Fortunato for short gain.
Van Brocklin, Rams Dump Colts, 37-21
Limping Tittle Stars Against Pack
(By Associated Press)
CHICAGO, Dec. 16 (AP) The Detroit Lions and the San Francisco 49ers, each with quarterback troubles and a surplus of second-half bounce, will collide Sunday in San Francisco to determine the champion of the National football league's Western division.
The teams ended their regular schedules Sunday on three game winning streaks, tied for the lead with 8-4 records. The Lions beat the Chicago Bears 21-13. Y. A. Tittle directed a 17-point second half for the 49ers to smother the last-place Green Bay Packers 27-20.
In the meantime, the upstart Colts ran into a red hot Norm Van Brocklin. The Dutchman threw four touchdown passes and the Los Angeles Rams scored 17 points in the final period to whip Baltimore 37-21. The loss left the Colts with a 7-5 record and its best NFL finish in history. But it was hardly consolation after hopes had been raised for the title.
The Cleveland Browns, Eastern champions, warmed up for their championship match, rallying to whip the New York Giants, 34-28. Washington outfaked Pittsburgh, 10-3.
The Lions-49ers winner plays Cleveland Dec. 29 for the NFL title.
Detroit defeated Los Angeles 31-21 in a 1952 playoff and went on to outplay Cleveland 17-7 in the league championship game. It was the Lions' lone playoff appearance. The 49ers have never been in a playoff.
The teams split two regular season games.
Green Bay led 20-10 at the half, which Tittle sat out, resting pulled muscles in both legs. Coach Frank Albert started him in the second half. In a cold rain, he sparked the 49ers to a field goal by Gordy Soltau and two touchdown smashes by veteran Joe Perry.
After the game, Tittle said his sore legs felt "pretty good." But he was limping. Albert had started rookie John Brodie, but later said, "There's just no substitute for experience."
The Colts' bid for a championship ended and the Rams, owner of a 6-6 record and a new season attendance season record for football.
The Rams ruined Baltimore's title hopes, 37-21. in the final regular-season battle of the National Football League yesterday before 52,560 rain-drenched fans, which brought their attendance mark for the season, at home and on the road, in seven exhibition and 12 league games, to 1,051,106. The Rums got 12 points in the last period.
The Colts made a gallant try to stay in the Western Conference title picture. But, the artistry of two elder statesmen of the Rams, quarterback Norman Van Brocklin and Elroy (Crazy-legs) Hirsch, who clicked for two touchdowns, the rushing of fullback Joe Marconi and the place-kicking of Paige Cothren were too much.
Van Brocklin pitched four scoring strikes to bring his season total to 20, best of his long career with the Rams.
One was a screen pass to rookie Jon Arnett, who cut loose for 61 yards, another was for eight yards to Lamar Lundy, and the two to Hirsch traveled rifle-like 23 and 10 yards,
Cothren's three valuable field goals, from 44, 23 and 17 yards out, at stages of the game could have been the difference.
Baltimore opened the game with a drive and closed their scoring in the same fashion.
The Colts battled and never gave up. They led off with a spectacular 62-yard pass from Johnny Unitas to end Ray Berry and three plays later scored on a 2-yard flip from Unitas to Lenny Monro.
And they ended their scoring with another sensational play a 99-yard kickoff return with Milt Davis catching the ball on the one, lateraling to Moore on the 8. and Moore streaked down the field for the touchdown.
In the third quarter the Colts stopped a Ram drive on the one and battled their way 99 yards for a touchdown that brought them within six points of the Rams.
The Rams quickly erased the Colts' early lead. Cothren kicked a 44-yard field goal and before the first quarter ended. Los Angeles took the lead when Van Brocklin tossed a screen pass to rookie halfback Jon Amett, who went 61 yards to score. From there on the Rams were never behind. They added another field goal and a touchdown in the second period and finished the half with a 20-7 lead.
Van Brockin and Hirsch got together for two of their patented scoring strikes, the first a 10-yard rifle shot into the end zone, the next a similar throw of 23 yards.
Van Brocklin wound up with an eight-yard toss to Lamar Lundy to complete the afternoon. He completed 19 out of 33 passes for 328 yards and Unitas, who kept the Rams and the crowd in an uproar with his ball-handling and pass-run elect plays, had 14 out of 29 for 223 yards.
In Saturday’s nationally televised game, the Chicago Cardinals edged the Philadelphia Eagles 31-27. Quarterback Lamar McHan tossed three touchdown passes of 42, 53 and 34 yards to lead the Cardinal offense. If the Cards topple Pittsburgh next Sunday at Comiskey Park, the Chicagoans can tie the Eagles for fifth place in the Eastern Divisions.
L.A.'s Elroy Hirsch catches touchdown pass from Van Brocklin
49ers Blow Title Game
Lions Take Crown With 31-27 Win
By Wally Willis
December 23, 1957- Reality hit with a shocking suddenness to crush 49er dreams for their first division title and a chance at the world's championship.
Collapsing before the Detroit Lions when luck ran out and their ability was outmatched, the 49ers blew a 20-point lead and were practically driven out of sun-bathed Kezar Stadium in the second half yesterday to suffer a 31-27 loss.
The Lions will now ride the momentum provided by this dramatic comeback into the National Football League title game with the Cleveland Browns next Sunday.
Scattered to various places in the country and forced for the 12th time to "wait another year," the 49ers will have to watch on television a game they should be playing themselves before the home fans.
Actually, the 60,112 who overflowed Kezar yesterday were as dumfounded by the 49ers collapse as the team, few grumbles being heard as fans wandered a way from the stadium.
Detroit's victory came in such shocking fashion it is hard to realize the manner in which it was accomplished until summarizing the second half of a bitterly fought ball game on a soft and sandy field.
For during the first 32 minutes of the game it appeared Coach Frank Albert's troops, slight pre-game favorites, would make it a rout as they roared into a 24-7 halftime lead and extended it to 27-7 in little more than two minutes of the third quarter.
But from that point, fired by brilliant running by Tom Tracy, a reserve back, the Lions took over absolute control to compile 104 yards running and 118 passing. The game never was again as close as the score might indicate.
The margin wasn't larger because the Lions had to come from so far back to capture a game the 49ers appeared to have in the bag, until the Detroiters ripped everything apart.
Detroit took advantage of every break it could get, producing some themselves by smashing Y. A. Tittle every time he went back to throw and then ball-hawking his passes so effectively three were intercepted.
The physical beating Tittle took, particularly on a play in the first half when Gil Mains worked him over unmercifully as all officials were elsewhere, undoubtedly had its effect on his throwing
But the 49er line couldn't get any ground attack going in the final two periods to retain ball control and the Lions kept hitting unmercifully to eventually put the game out of reach with little more than two minutes to play.
Detroit had staged a similar rally against the 49ers, in Kezar in October, only to have it snatched away in the final 11-seconds, 35-31. But luck was with the 49ers then, not yesterday.
Seldom in 49er history has the offense been so impotent it could collect but 51 yards passing and 93 running- 71 came on one play- in the final 30 minutes.
It all added up to but three points, for which the 49ers settled after one of the most spectacular runs of the year by Hugh McElhenny.
On the first scrimmage play after the third period kickoff, Hugh swung wide to his right from the 49er 20, with a mass of blockers forming in front of him.
But hemmed in on the sidelines, he cut straight back across field, picked up key blocks by Frank Morze and Billy Wilson, and raced down the sidelines to the Detroit nine before thrown out by Yale Lary.
It was good for 71 yards and had the 49ers put over the score it might have turned into a rout.
Detroit gave up six yards in three plays and forced Gordy Soltau to kick a 10-yard field goal.
Continuing the same savage defensive style they put up when in the hole after the McElhenny run, the Lions pounced on a Tittle fumble on the 49er 27 and never let up.
First it was a 27-yard drive in nine plays to a touchdown after the fumble; then a 58- yard run by Tracy for another TD following a Bill Jessup punt; and then another drive of 54 yards in five plays for the winning TD after another punt.
While all of this Detroit scoring was going on, the 49ers never had the ball for more than four consecutive plays.
Only after the Lions had added a field goal late in the fourth period did the 49ers move at all, and that was against a defense designed to stop the long throws.
This lone drive carried as far as the Detroit 49, the only time the 49ers were to get out of their own territory in the final 27 minutes.
But after this minor concession, the Lions threw Tittle for an 11-yard loss and then buried him under his own blockers on the next play. Y. A. was hit as he threw, the ball sailed short and the third and final Detroit interception killed the dying hopes of the 49ers.
From the start of the game it appeared a cinch for the 49ers, who hit John Henry Johnson so hard he fumbled on the Lions 21, Bill Herchman recovering.
They didn't even let a 15-yard penalty interfere in their drive to the first touchdown.
Pressed back to the 34 and with third down, Tittle called the "Alley Oop" which beat the Lions in the final 11 seconds of the first league meeting. R. C. Owens once again out jumped Jim David down in the end zone.
Squashing another Detroit attack with no gain in three tries, the 49ers unloaded again for a 47-yard scoring play. On this one, McElhenny sped down the middle, took a throw from Tittle between three Lions on the 15 and slipped through for the touchdown as Carl Karilivacs made a frantic grab at the goal line.
Ability of the Lions, on Tobin Rote's accurate throwing, to move right back for a 61-yard touchdown drive didn't upset the 49ers.
They countered with an 88-yard drive of their own, controlling the ball for a period of 9 minutes 34 seconds before Tittle passed to Wilson for the final 12 yards. And a Sojtau field goal of 25 yards, culminating a 41-yard drive started after Matt Hazeltine hit Rote so hard he fumbled, seemed to be just so much cushion, to be enhanced by the third-period field goal.
Tracy, undoubtedly, provided the spark for the Lions, particularly his 58-yard TD run in the third period. While not producing the winning points, it put the Lions into a position where they could take the lead with one more and also came with such ease the 49ers appeared to be unnerved.
Swinging wide to his right, Tracy stepped away from all of his blockers but Gene Gedman a few yards past the line of scrimmage. He slipped right out of one tackle, swivel hipped his way past two others and let Gedman remove the final threat.
The winning touchdown was to come on the second play of the fourth period, Jim Martin adding his fourth conversion for a one-point lead and then a 14-yard field goal as frosting for the victory cake.
Detroit lost another scoring opportunity when Dick Moegle hit Tracy with a savage tackle on the one and Bill Stits recovered the fumble which resulted.
Albert tried everything but some of his goof-ball plays to produce victory for the 49ers, but nothing caught the Lions by surprise.
Clyde Conner, out five games with a shoulder injury, was a surprise starter and went most of the way at end. He was the recipient of but one Tittle pass as the latter concentrated on throws to Wilson and McElhenny.
The 49ers even went back to the old tight T style of play from which they once got a lot of running power. But it could get Joe Perry and McElhenny loose only infrequently.
To add to the luster of the Detroit victory it should be realized the Lions were really in bad shape physically. David, one of the best defensive backs in the league, went out early in the second period when he reinjured his ankle. And other Lions saw little or no action because of injury.
While the loss was a bitter pill for the 49ers to force down, they got a lot farther this year than anyone expected. And they certainly have a fine nucleus on which Albert can continue his rebuilding program next season.
Detroit's Yale Lary (28) defends pass to the 49ers' Billy Wilson.
The 49ers' Joe Perry plows into Lary.
Lary defends pass against the 49ers' Clyde Conner.
Lions Start Fast, Hand Cleveland 59-14 Shellacking
By Dave Riles
DETROIT, Dec. 30 (AP)- Their old coach called them "dead," their victims called them "lucky" and their new coach calls them "the fightingest damn bunch of guys I've ever seen."
But whatever you call them, the Detroit Lions today are the world champions of professional football. They proved it yesterday by dealing the Cleveland Browns the worst defeat in the team's history, 59-14, in the world title game at Briggs Stadium.
The startling triumph, achieved before 55,263 stadium spectators and a nationwide television audience, provided a dramatic climax to the daffiest campaign in National Football League history.
A frizzled band of old pro die-hards and a couple of rookies reaching out early for bigtime stardom combined to produce this city's fourth world championship football team.
This is the third time the Lions have grabbed off the big prize by beating their bitter rivals from Ohio.
Under the flawless guidance of quarterback Tobin Rote the Lions moved with authority and command from the start scoring 17 points in the opening period and following with 14 points in each of the last three quarters. Rote, who never before played with a title winning team in eight seasons of pro ball, was an offensive giant for the Lions.
The bronzed, drawling Texan who took over as sub quarterback four weeks ago when Bobby Layne was sidelined with a fractured ankle, threw four touchdown passes and scored another.
Handyman Jim Martin, the old Notre Dame veteran the Lions almost released last summer, got the club off to a rousing start. He kicked a 31-yard field goal in the first period and before the scrap was over added eight extra points.
The Browns, division champs seven times in eight seasons and world titlists three times, never really got started. Linebacker Bob Long, one of more than half a dozen Detroit stalwarts obtained in player deals, intercepted a Tommy O'Connell pass three plays later. It took the modern day "gashouse gang" just three plays to score with Rote sneaking over from the one.
Milt Campbell fumbled the kickoff and rookie Terry Barr of Michigan recovered on the Cleveland 15. In six plays the score stood 17-0. And that's the way it went all afternoon.
Before the first half was over, Rote passed from field goal formation on fourth down, hitting another rookie, end Steve Junker, on a 26-yard scoring play. And Barr raced 19 yards with a pass interception for another score, offsetting Jim Brown's 29-yard touchdown run for Cleveland on the first play of the second quarter.
The Browns scored first in the second half, marching 80 yards in 10 plays with Lew Carpenter's five-yard run capping the drive. Detroit roared back with a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage at Rote and Jim Doran combined on a 78-yard scoring pass.
Before the period was over Rote connected with Junker again on a 24-yard scoring pass and early in the fourth quarter found Dave Middleton in the Cleveland end zone for a 32-yard scoring pitch. This strike was Rote's seventh straight completion- four of them for touchdowns.
Jerry Reichow led the final touchdown drive that covered 66 yards. He hit Howard (Hopalong) Cassady with a 11-yard touchdown pass with less than three minutes remaining in the game.
George Wilson, the nice guy who became head Detroit coach when Buddy Parker quit and turned out a title team in his first try, could barely make himself heard amid the wild demonstrations in the dressing room. He called it "a team victory if there ever was one" and credited the team's undying spirit with producing the rags-to-riches saga that turned the city upside down.
Nine records either fell or were equaled. Gross receipts totaled $593,967.50, a new playoff game mark. Each of the winning Lions got 4,295.41, another high.
Detroit's 59 points was the highest in a single Detroit game.
The two-team total of 73 points equaled the 1940 game when the Chicago Bears beat the Washington Redskins, 73-0.
Jim Martin booted the extra point after each of the Lions' eight touchdowns, equaling the championship game record set by Lou Groza of the Browns in the 1954 game against the Lions.
The team conversion record of eight now is held jointly by Detroit and Cleveland.
End Steve Junker of Detroit scored two touchdowns on passes to earn a niche in the record book alongside six others.
The Lions’ 22 first downs also was a record equalizer. That mark had been achieved five times previously.
Tobin Rote and Jerry Reichow combined to pitch five touchdown passes, tying another team record for the Lions. The Bears also had five touchdown passes when they beat the Redskins in 1943.
The Lions' defense overpowered Milt Plum (16) and the Browns in the second half.
DET- FG Martin 31
DET- Rote 1 run (Martin kick)
DET- Gedman 1 run (Martin kick)
CLE- Brown 29 run (Groza kick)
DET- Junker 26 yard pass from Rote (Martin kick)
DET- Barr 19 yard interception (Martin kick)
CLE- Carpenter 5 run (Groza kick)
DET- Doran 78 yard pass from Rote (Martin kick)
DET- Junker 23 yard pass from Rote (Martin kick)
DET- Middleton 32 yard pass from Rote (Martin kick)
DET- Cassady 17 yard pass from Reichow (Martin kick)
Tobin Rote Spurned Coach To Call Play On Fake Kick
By TOM DYGARD
DETROIT, Dec. 30 (AP) — In the shouting mob outside the Detroit Lions' dressing room after their 59-14 triumph over Cleveland, the little man in the red jacket and blue stocking cap was elated.
"I touched him," he shouted, holding one hand aloft. "I touched Tobin Rote with this hand."
The fan, one of the thousands who poured onto the field at the final whistle, had touched the right player.
Rote, a balding veteran of eight years in t h e National Football League, completed 12 of 19 passes for 280 yards and four touchdowns.
And it was Rote, taking over at quarterback for injured Bobby Layne, who played a hunch on fourth down early in the second quarter with the Lions holding a 17-7 lead- a shaky margin in professional football.
The hunch was that he should reject a play sent from the bench by Lions Coach George Wilson. Wilson called for a field goal.
Instead, Rote pulled out a fake field goal maneuver that the team had can-led all season without using.
With the ball on the Cleveland 26, Rote knelt as it to hold for the kicker, Jim Martin.
Rote took the ball from center. Martin swung his leg. But then- to the complete astonishment of the Cleveland defenders- Rote ran with the ball to his right.
Downfield, near the sidelines, he fired it at rookie end Steve Junker, all alone on the six. Junker gathered in the ball and scored untouched.
"That was the play that kept us going," said Wilson after the game. "Sometimes when the breaks start going your way, you can't stop making points,"
Down the corridor under Briggs Stadium in the quiet dressing room of the Cleveland Browns, Coach Paul Brown kept the door closed 25 minutes.
Then he let in waiting newsmen and announced:
"Personally, if you think I have any peculiar feelings about it, I don't. The ball was just going to bounce that way and did. I'm philosophical about it.”
Dave Middleton reaches for pass reception from Rote.