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13 ‘Bad Luck’ moments in Detroit sports history

If you live in the state of Michigan, odds are that you root for Detroit teams and either Michigan or Michigan State. (If you do not fall into that category, don’t worry, we love you too!) If you do fall into that category, you have suffered through some terrible luck throughout the years.

These can range from just the most bizarre and obscure plays to the most poorly-timed bad moments that were ultimately game-changers. They are plays that frankly you cannot believe they happened and almost wish they did not, but they are stuck in your head.

Here are our 13 most memorable moments in Detroit sports history that just screamed ‘bad luck.’


It is regarded as one of the wildest plays in sports history, not just in college football.

September 24, 1994 – the Michigan Wolverines are hosting the Colorado Buffaloes in an early-season matchup in the Big House. Michigan is leading the Buffs 26-14 with under three minutes remaining.

Colorado found the end zone to make it a one-score game and then with six seconds remaining, the Big House went silent. Colorado quarterback Kordell Stewart chucks it nearly 70 yards down the field for a Hail Mary attempt, the pass is deflected and is eventually caught in the end zone by receiver Michael Westbrook to give Colorado the 27-26 victory.

The irony of this is that Colorado ran the same exact play to end the first half, and that resulted in an interception.


Hypothetically speaking, we can do a whole blog on moments like these for the Lions, but there are some plays, especially in recent years, that just stand out more than others.

We don’t have to look far back for this one. Thursday, December 3, 2015, against the Green Bay Packers.

After a brutal 1-7 start to the season, the Lions seemingly flipped the script in the second half and opened up a Thursday night game at home against the rival Packers up 20-0. However, they let Green Bay creep back in and made it a one-possession game. The Lions and the NFL know better than to give Aaron Rodgers a chance to win a game.

Following a controversial face mask penalty on the play before that would have given the Lions another win if not called, the Packers are given one more free play. Rodgers decides to sling it à la Kordell Stewart.

Buckle up, Lions fans. More to come from the men in Honolulu blue.


This one was a strange one, given the back-to-back years that hockey fans were greeted with two outstanding Stanley Cup Finals series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings.

In 2008, the Wings hoisted the cup after dispatching Pittsburgh in six games. Goalie Chris Osgood made a huge save late in the game to help seal the victory and the Cup for Detroit.

Fast forward a year later, and the two teams meet again and go to Game 7. Pittsburgh is now in control late in the contest and the Red Wings go for one final attack with just seconds remaining. Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury channels his inner Osgood.


Another instance of great postseason moments in NBA history involved the Detroit Pistons. After taking home the title in 2004, they had a chance to repeat once again in franchise history.

The last hurdle of their 2005 run? The San Antonio Spurs.

Arguably the model franchise in the NBA, the Spurs gave the Pistons a hard-fought and intense seven-game series in the Finals. It was Game 5 though with the series knotted at two games apiece that Detroit fans would rather not reminisce on.

Ladies and gentlemen – Robert Horry.


God bless Jim Joyce. Where was instant replay when you needed it most?

June 2, 2010 – then Tigers starter Armando Galarraga is pitching the best game of his career. Merely just a role player in the rotation, Galarraga was on the verge of making major league history.

Then… it happened.

The 27th man to hit in the game, Indians shortstop Jason Donald slaps one to the right side. First baseman Miguel Cabrera goes and fields, Galarraga goes and covers first base and he is ou…..err, safe?


See? I told you it wouldn’t take long to get more Lions moments on here?

2013 was particularly struggling for the blue and silver. They started off 6-3 and gave fans some glimmer of hope (again), only to finish 1-6 that resulted in the firing of embattled head coach Jim Schwartz.

One of those losses came at home on an edition of Monday Night Football against the Baltimore Ravens. Not the most thrilling game by either side, the Ravens went down for one final drive with a chance to win.

All Ravens kicker Justin Tucker does is knock in only the 14th field goal of 60 yards or longer in NFL history, establish himself as one of the better kickers in the league, and send the Lions even more in a downward spiral.


Yes, it did indeed happen again, in the fact that a visiting team in Michigan Stadium came from behind and won with no time left.

Only it was Michigan’s hated in-state rival from down the road in East Lansing that was on the winning end.

All Michigan punter Blake O’Neill had to do was receive the catch and kick it away, running out the clock…. Oops. Already failed step one.

Here is ESPN’s Sean McDonough.


In the midst of a super successful four-year stretch for the Tigers was a third consecutive trip to the American League Championship Series in 2013.

This time the opponent was the Boston Red Sox.

After taking the first game of the series, the Tigers held a 5-0 lead going into the bottom half of the 6th inning at Fenway Park, putting the AL’s best team that year on the ropes for the remainder of the series.

Then here comes the Sox. After a Dustin Pedroia double to make it 5-1 in the 6th, Boston had the bases loaded in the 8th with two outs when super slugger and fan favorite David Ortiz came to the dish.

‘Big Papi’ drives it deep to right into the bullpen, sending then Tigers right fielder Torii Hunter flying over the wall. It tied the game at the time, Boston would go on to score in the 9th on an RBI single from catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, undoubtedly changing the momentum of the series and they defeat the Tigers in six games, eventually winning the World Series.


So many things went wrong in this game, but it only seems fitting that it happened to the Lions.

It was their second postseason appearance in four years and under head coach Jim Caldwell in his first season after going 11-5. The Lions played Dallas in the NFL Wild Card game and had a two-score lead for much of the contest, until the 4th quarter.

Dallas cut it to 20-17 with a little more than 12 minutes to go in the game. The Lions marched down the field in an effort to increase their lead or at the worst milk as much clock as possible.

A 3rd and 1 play in Dallas territory, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford throws down the field to tight end Brandon Pettigrew, only to be interfered by Cowboys defensive back Anthony Hitchens… Or at least it appeared that way.

After initially calling it a penalty, the referees get together, reverse the call and the Lions end up punting. Dallas goes down, takes their only lead of the game and ousts Detroit from the playoffs.

It was not a good playoffs in 2015 for the referee committee.


And it happens a year later.

On another edition of Monday Night Football. The Lions traveled to Seattle to face two-time defending NFC champion Seahawks, in a game that everybody and their mother and brother predicted the ‘Hawks to win.

Though it definitely did not seem that way for much of the game. It was a defensive struggle, as Seattle held a 13-10 lead late in the contest, but the Lions had a chance to tie or even take the lead.

A pass to Calvin Johnson, an even better play by Seattle DB Kam Chancellor and an illegal play by K.J. Wright. Or at least that is not how the zebras saw it.


Let’s play one more!…..Ehh, let’s not.

This has a few moving parts to it. The Tigers led the AL Central for a good portion of the 2009 season, mostly a two-horse race between them and the Minnesota Twins. The Tigers had a 7.0 game lead on September 7 and a 3.0 game as the calendar flipped to October with four games remaining in the regular season.

The lead evaporated very quickly, leaving the two division rivals to play a 163rd game on October 6 of 2009 to decide the division crown and a spot in the playoffs.

In what was easily one of the more exciting games in baseball history, the Twins won 6-5 in the 12th to clinch a playoff berth. Where is the bad luck in this, you might ask?

It goes back to the top half of the 12th, when the Tigers had bases loaded and one out. Third baseman Brandon Inge stepped to the dish and was hit by the pitch. However, the umpires said he was not. The HBP would have scored a run, giving the Tigers a lead and kept the inning going.

Instead, the at-bat continued. Inge grounded into a fielder’s choice getting an out at home and then Gerald Laird struck out to leave the bases loaded. The Twins scored on a base hit in the bottom half to win the game.

A bad omen to this story came a few weeks before when the Tigers were in Minneapolis. They held a 2-1 lead in the 8th inning. A fly ball to left field and Don Kelly loses the ball in the lights/roof of the old Metrodome. Instead of a flyball out, the inning continued and the Twins took advantage, scoring five runs to win 6-2.

Re-live Game 163, if you choose to do so.


Players are meant to be re-writing the history books of their respective sports, not the rule books.

That happened on September 12 of 2010 when the Lions were visiting the Bears to open the NFL season.

Down 19-14 with under a minute to go, Matthew Stafford throws the ball downfield to the end zone for Calvin Johnson to go up and make a play. And that he did. He catches it and comes down with it for the go-ahead touchdown.

But hold the phone. The referees determined that Johnson did not come down with the catch cleanly and ‘complete the process’ for it to be called a touchdown. So instead, the Lions were not given six points and potentially a victory.

The NFL would later go on to re-write the rule and emphasize it as the ‘Calvin Johnson Rule’ for years to come. To this day, if you ask Lions fans, some will say Detroit won that game 21-19.


It certainly makes a fair argument given the great disparity between the two teams on paper heading into the game.

A top-5 ranked Michigan bunch claimed to have ‘unfinished business’ with the mindset of doing great things in 2007. That was quickly shattered in one of the more dramatic ways possible.

Trailing late with just seconds remaining after having trouble with Appalachian State all game long, the Wolverines lined up for a potential game-winning 37-yard field goal to avoid the early-season scare and escape with a victory.

But the game, the season, and the college football landscape received huge shock waves in a matter of seconds. Sorry Michigan fans, you have been on the wrong end of some bad luck moments.


What do you think? Do any of these 13 “Bad Luck” moments in Detroit sports history stick in your head more than others? What are some other ones that we did not include that you remember?




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W.G. Brady
W.G. Brady
W.G. Brady is a Detroit-based journalist who has been covering the Detroit sports scene for Detroit Sports Nation for several years. He is in his early 30s and has a wealth of experience in the industry. Throughout his career, W.G. has established himself as a respected and knowledgeable journalist known for his in-depth coverage of the teams and athletes in Detroit. With a keen eye for detail and a passion for sports, W.G. has become a go-to source for fans and readers looking for the latest news and analysis on the Detroit sports scene. He has a good reputation in the sports community and is respected for his unbiased coverage of sports events. W.G. is known for his ability to uncover hidden stories and provide unique perspectives on the teams and athletes he covers. He has a good understanding of the city of Detroit and its sports culture, which he uses to inform his reporting and analysis. He continues to be a respected journalist in the Detroit sports industry.

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