When the Lions take on the Cowboys this Sunday (4:40 p.m., Fox), they will be attempting to win their first playoff game in nearly 23 years to the day. Against whom did the Lions happen to defeat that season to earn a berth in the NFL title game? None other than the Dallas Cowboys. Coincidence? Probably.
The ’91 Lions took home the NFC Central division title with a 12-4 record. Waiting for them in the divisional championship game was an 11-5 Cowboys team just two years removed from a 1-15 campaign (the record holder for most losses in a single season until the 2008 Lions happened). Still, a young Cowboys core led by brash head coach Jimmy Johnson found themselves in line to make a strong playoff push after surprising the Super Bowl contending Redskins in the regular season and disposing of the Chicago Bears in a first round Wild Card matchup.
The Lions, meanwhile, finished out the ’91 regular season on a six-game winning streak after Erik Kramer took over the primary reins of the Detroit offense, spelling Rodney Peete (both quarterbacks had 6-2 records as starters in ’91). While the current 23-year void between playoff victories may seems significant, the ’91 Lions were looking for their first postseason win since 1957.
Detroit didn’t waste any time in getting things off to a good start against Emmitt Smith & company. Kramer found receiver Willie Green for a quick 31-yard score. Then, following a Cowboys field goal, Mel Jenkins opened things up with a pick-six, capping his return with an era-appropriate endzone breakdown.
Near the game’s midpoint, Troy Aikman would replace Steve Beuerlein at quarterback (who’d originally replaced an injured Aikman in the first place) but the damage had already been done. The floodgates opened as Kramer completed two more scoring passes in the third – one to a young Herman Moore then a second strike into the hands of Willie Green – en route to a 341 yard passing performance.
By the start of the fourth quarter, the Lions led 31-6 and the route was on. Barry Sanders, uncharacteristically ineffective through three, provided the grand finale in the last frame, turning in one of the most mystifying runs in the history of the National Football League. Behold:
In typical Barry fashion, he’d go on to vastly underplay his excursion when the topic was broached during post-game.
“There was a big crowd of people,” said Sanders. “And, uh, I hit someone and bounced off of him and I saw an open lane to the zone.”
We wouldn’t mind if this Sunday’s throwdown went just as smoothly.