Sure – the Lions aren’t the Browns, who are the most famous train wreck in the NFL, but that’s hardly a comfort to fans of Detroit football, some of whom have lived and died without witnessing more than a single playoff win. Since 1957, the Lions’ last NFL championship, the Red Wings, Pistons and Tigers have managed to dig themselves out of terrible situations to become some of the most well-respected teams in their sport. In fact, Detroit’s NHL, NBA and MLB teams individually have more championships than Lions playoff wins.
The staff at Canada Sports Betting believe that the Lions can learn a lot by taking a look at the accomplishments of other Detroit pro sport franchises over the past sixty years. What makes the Red Wings, Pistons and Tigers successful while the Detroit Lions flounder?
Detroit Red Wings
Franchises don’t get more legendary than the Detroit Red Wings, an original six team that helped to solidify the foundation of the NHL in 1926. Around 1957, the team completed a stretch of four Stanley Cups in six years, blessed by the presence of Gordie Howe. After Howe, the Red Wings entered a period of futility that lasted a few decades, eventually resulting in the drafting of Steve Yzerman.
Steve Yzerman ended up becoming the longest serving captain in NHL history, leading the team to three Stanley Cups during his tenure. A long list of superstars flocked to Detroit during the Yzerman era, including Brett Hull, Nicklas Lidstrom, Brendan Shanahan, Sergei Fedorov, Dominik Hasek, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Luc Robitalle and Larry Murphy.
The key moment of transition took place when Mike Ilitch bought the franchise and added Ken Holland to the payroll. Holland worked his way up from a scouting position with the Red Wings, eventually earning the role of General Manager. In fact, Sports Illustrated named him the second-best sports executive during the first decade of the millennium.
Detroit won its 11th Stanley Cup in 2008, and waned as an NHL power after Datsyuk and Lidstrom stopped playing in the NHL. Their streak of 25 consecutive playoff appearances, the longest in North American pro sports, appears to be threatened this year. They’ll need to make up ground in the second half of the regular season to earn a spot for the 2017 post-season.
The Pistons happened to move to Detroit in 1957 after the Fort Wayne Pistons merged into the NBA in 1949. Similar to the Red Wings, the Pistons were a dumpster fire during the decades preceding the 80s, experiencing a turnaround after a new owner purchased the team. Bill Davidson helped to stabilize the franchise upon purchase in 1974, allowing the team to exist long enough to draft Isiah Thomas with the second overall pick in the 1981 draft. Lucky for Detroit, Dallas selected Mark Aguirre with the first overall selection.
It didn’t happen overnight, as the Pistons struggled with playoff losses, including a heart-wrenching, seven game loss to the Lakers in 1988, fueled in part by injury to Isiah and the phantom foul. The next year, the Bad Boys were in full swing, leveraging the difficult experience gained during their finals loss to sweep the Lakers in the 1989 NBA Finals, and trounced the Portland Trail Blazers 4-1 in 1990 to earn repeat rings.
During the first decade of the 2000s, the Detroit Pistons were one of the heavyweights of the eastern conference, appearing in six straight conference finals. They were one of the few teams able to withstand the Los Angeles Lakers, earning an NBA championship in 2004 in one of the biggest upsets in NBA history. Unfortunately, the Pistons have been rebuilding for quite a while now, relying entirely on Stan Van Gundy to drag the team back into contention.
The Detroit Tigers were one of the original eight teams of the MLB, joining the American League in 1901. They haven’t changed much since then, and the franchise hasn’t enjoyed the same level of modern success as the Pistons or the Red Wings. Since 1957, the Tigers have won a pair of World Series rings, including one of the most dominant seasons in American League history. In 1984, Detroit started the season on top of their division and didn’t relinquish the lead over the next 161 games, before winning the World Series in dominant fashion over the San Diego Padres.
The Tigers haven’t won a World Series since, but it hasn’t been all bad. Since 1984, the team has earned five division titles and a wild card berth, appearing in the World Series in 2006 and 2012. Over the past decade, the Tigers have been among the elite of the American League, barely falling short of a Wild Card berth in 2016.
One notable mark of futility took place in the 2003 season, as the Tigers set a new American League record with 199 losses in one season. However, this one year of sacrifice helped set the stage for franchise stability, which is something the Lions haven’t been able to accomplish despite many years of historic losing.
What’s Wrong With The Detroit Lions?
Everything started to go wrong in 1958, after the Lions finished their streak of three NFL championships between 1952 and 1957. Detroit was led by quarterback Bobby Layne at the time, but the Lions decided to trade him to Pittsburgh in 1958 after Layne suffered an injury. He was understandably angry at the lack of loyalty that the Lions displayed. Legend has it that before Layne joined the Steelers, he declared that “Detroit would not win for fifty years.” Sixty years later, the Lions have won only one playoff game since trading him, and the curse of Bobby Layne has outlived the man himself, who passed away in 1986.
After their unceremonious beating at the hands of the Cowboys during the 2017 playoffs, the Lions now stand 1-13 in the NFL post season since 1957. Their best season during this time was 1991, when they won the NFC Central with a 12-4 record, beating the Dallas Cowboys 38-6 in the divisional playoffs before Washington destroyed them on the way to winning Super Bowl XXVI against the Bills.
Over the last six decades, not only did they waste Barry Sanders, arguably the best running back in history, but they also managed to avoid winning throughout the 2008 season, becoming the first NFL team to go 0-16 over the course of a campaign. This won them the right to draft Matthew Stafford, and they still haven’t managed to earn their second playoff win since 1957.
This level of futility requires failure on multiple levels, ranging from the front office to the field. The Lions have had their share of bad luck, but even the unluckiest franchises manage to win more than one post season game in sixty years. Clichéd but true, success starts and ends with the front office. The Red Wings, Pistons and Tigers all experienced turnarounds after making changes at the top, allowing these teams to build a lasting foundation over multiple generations of competition.
The Curse of Bobby Layne remains an entertaining fable, similar to other famous hexes. Real, lasting change starts at the front office. Building organizational consistency remains more powerful than any curse, including those from disgruntled quarterbacks.