The Detroit Lions are a less than mediocre franchise (to put it mildly) today. But it wasn’t always that way.
In their 85 seasons as a pro football franchise, as the Lions and the Portsmouth (OH) Spartans, they have won 4 NFL Championships (pre-1970 AFL-NFL merger), 4 Conference titles, 4 division championships, made the playoffs 17 times, while collecting a total of 535 victories. That mark is tied with the Cardinals franchise for 6th best.
While the current crop of Lions haven’t lived up to the tradition of the greats from their past, that takes nothing away from the fact that this franchise is a cornerstone in the history of the NFL and the players on this list are as well. I present, the Detroit Lions Mount Rushmore…
- No owners, unless they were also coaches, and their place on this list is based on their contributions as coach. No General Managers or Personnel executives. Just those who directly affected the games on Sunday. I will make a separate list for those contributors soon.
- Key contributors to the team’s history and success, not just fan favorites or box office draws.
- Can you tell the franchise’s story without them? If no, they’re on the list.
Barry Sanders (1989-1998) is in the conversation for greatest running back of all-time with the likes of Jim Brown and Walter Payton. At the time of his retirement, he was on pace to pass Payton for number one in career rushing yards the following season. Sanders is the Lions career leader in rushing yards (15,269), rushing touchdowns (99), combined touchdowns (109) and attempts (3,062). The 10-time Pro Bowl and 10-time All-Pro selection holds 10 Detroit Lions records, and the NFL record most consecutive 100-yard games (14), most 1,500-yard seasons (5) among nine others. He’s also a 2-time NFL MVP (1991, 1997), 2-time NFL Offensive Player of the Year (1994, 1997), NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year (1989). Sanders is a member of the 2,000 rushing yard club, NFL 1990s All-Decade Team and the Pro Football Hall of Fame (2004). The Lions retired his number 20 jersey. Sanders was rated the number one elusive running back of all-time by NFL.com, and was the #17 NFL player of all-time in NFL.com’s 2010 poll.
Bobby Lane (1950-1958) is the best quarterback in Lions history. He is the all-time leader in wins (53) and led the team to 3 NFL Championships (1952, 1953, 1957). Lane is second on the Lions all-time list in passing yards (15,710) and touchdown passes (118). The 6-time Pro Bowl and 5-time All-Pro selection is a member of the NFL 1950s All-Decade Team and the Pro Football Hall of Fame (1967). The team has retired his number 22 jersey.
Lem Barney (1967-1977) was a 7-time Pro Bowl and 2-time All-Pro selection at cornerback and return specialist. Barney won the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1967. His career 58 interceptions are second in team history, and his 7 pick 6’s is number one. He wore jersey number 20, which is now retired in his honor along with Billy Sims and Barry Sanders. In 1992 he was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and has also been inducted into the Detroit, Jackson State, Michigan, and Mississippi’s Halls of Fame.
Dick LeBeau (1959-1972) is known by the current generation of NFL fans for being the Godfather of the Blitzburgh 3-4 defense, but before his days as a coaching legend, he was a masterful defensive back. LeBeau is the Lions all-time leader in career interceptions with 62, ranked 7th in NFL history, and returned 3 of them for touchdowns. His interception return yards of 762 yards ranks third in team history. He also recovered 9 fumbles, one returned for a touchdown. In 14 seasons he played 185 games, 171 consecutive, which was a record for cornerbacks at the time of his retirement, and has since been passed by Ronde Barber of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. LeBeau was a 3-time Pro Bowl and 3-time All-NFL selection. In 2010 LeBeau was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the Lions inducted him into the Pride of Lions.
What do you think Lions fans? Did I get it right? Who would you put on the franchise’s Mount Rushmore? I want to hear from you.