What If? The Memoirs of a Detroit Lions Fan

Barry Sanders photoshop
Photoshop via Shea Huening on Flickr

What if?


While watching the 2014-15 NFL playoffs, my mind became overwhelmed with “what if’s.” Reminded of what a Super Bowl would mean to Detroit, I usually find a way – correctly or not – to pinpoint a single event that triggered yet another disastrous conclusion to the season. Some years it requires a bit of thought – a bad call or missed kick somewhere along the line – and other years (this one in particular), it’s pretty obvious. Either way, there’s always something that seems to have catalyzed a pitiful, often comical, chain of events extending over years and even decades. Here’s a list of them, by how intriguing I find the alternative possibilities.



What if Tom Dempsey didn’t kick the most ridiculously amazing field goal in history? (1970)

This is only ranked #10 because, in the end, I don’t believe this game impacted the season tremendously. Nevertheless, the story is amazing. The Lions are 5-2, midway through a playoff season, facing the 1-5-1 New Orleans Saints on the road. With 11 seconds left, an Errol Mann field goal puts the Lions ahead 17-16. However, the Saints return the ensuing kickoff to the 28, then complete a pass to get out of bounds at their own 45 with two seconds left. The game is basically over. Nothing left but formalities.

That is, until Tom Dempsey – a man born with half a foot yet somehow chose field goal kicking for a profession, a man who was 22-41 his rookie year and 5-15 that season until that point, a man who apparently wasn’t told the NFL record was only 56 yards – lined up for an impossible 63-yard attempt (the uprights were on the goal line in those days). Interestingly, the holder actually moved back a yard to allow Dempsey clearance for a lower trajectory. It didn’t even matter. The Lions naturally assumed the game was over and didn’t even attempt to block it (classic Lions, right?). They just watched Dempsey connect, heard the thud of his foot pulverizing the ball, and probably stood awestruck as it sailed magnificently through the uprights. Then they retreated to the locker room, dumbfounded, as pandemonium ensued in New Orleans.

Rewriting History

Dempsey misses and the Lions win the game. The extra win doesn’t change much, however. The Lions roll on to an 11-3 record, but the Vikings won the division at 12-2. The Lions still claim the wild card, still play the Cowboys in the “Cotton Bowl”, and still lose 5-0. And, the world is robbed of this incredible story of a half-footed kicker shattering the NFL record.

Article written by Zach Weingarden