1995 Detroit Lions: The Forgotten Greatest Show on Turf

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1995 Detroit Lions: The Forgotten Greatest Show on Turf

The Greatest Show on Turf personified the St. Louis Rams franchise at turn of the millennium, after their offense left the rest of the NFL in ruin. 

But was that title mistakenly placed on the wrong franchise? 

In 1995, the league saw an offensive juggernaut post superior numbers than the Rams would compile four years later, that team…The Detroit Lions.

The biggest argument anointing the 1995 Lions the Greatest Show on Turf would be: the team finished with a 10-6 record, losing to the Philadelphia Eagles in the playoffs while the 1999 Rams were 13-3, and went on to become Super Bowl Champions. 

Four key offensive categories demonstrated the elite status of the 1999 Rams. They ranked first overall in offensive yards, points scored, passing yards and passing touchdowns. 

Similarly, the 1995 Lions were ranked first or second in the same categories.

Detroit’s quarterback Scott Mitchell threw for seven more yards than Kurt Warner did in 1999; he also incurred three less interceptions. Warner did shine in one category with a higher completion percentage at 65.1 versus Mitchell’s at 59.3.

During these highly productive offensive years, Detroit and St. Louis boasted two of the greatest NFL running backs of all-time: Barry Sanders and Marshall Faulk. 

Sanders rushed for 1,500 yards and 11 touchdowns, while Faulk compiled 1,381 yards with eight touchdowns. Faulk also contributed 1,048 yards in the receiving game and added 5 more touchdowns to his yearly total.

Detroit’s potent receiving corps in 1995 was led by wide receiver Herman Moore. Brett Perriman and Johnnie Morton helped supply the Lions with additional weapons.

Moore ranked third in the league with 1,686 receiving yards, behind legends Jerry Rice and Isaac Bruce. He led Detroit with 14 touchdown receptions and had ten games with 100 yards or more. 

Perriman supplied 1,488 yards with nine catching touchdowns with seven games of 100+ yards, while Morton tallied another 590 yards and eight touchdowns.

Behind Moore, Perriman finished a close sixth in receiving yards. Detroit continued their dominance in the NFL rankings with Moore, Perriman and Morton being ranked in the top 18 in touchdown receptions, difficult to fathom with NFL great Sanders being the team’s superstar. 

The Rams rankings in 1999 were inferior to Detroit’s receivers with Bruce ranking 12th, Faulk at 21st, and Holt trailing behind at 44th in receiving yards.

Detroit’s receivers all equaled or topped their Rams counterpart. Moore had 521 more receiving yards and two more touchdowns than Bruce. Perriman nearly doubled Holt’s 788 receiving yards, with 1,488 and delivered three more scores. 

Az-Zahir Hakim, the Rams slot receiver, gave St. Louis an advantage at one receiver position; adding 87 more yards than Morton, while matching his touchdown total of eight.

In four different NFL seasons since 1995, Moore and Perriman’s outstanding production would have seen them ranked No. 1 and No. 2 overall in the receiving yards (1996, 1998, 2004, and 2006).

Detroit’s superior offensive play was highlighted best in their 44-38 Thanksgiving Day victory over Minnesota in Week 13. The Lions had a record-breaking day with 534 yards of total offense, being fourth in team history. Mitchell broke Lions records with pass attempts, completions and passing yards. 

This game featured the first time ever; three Lions receivers eclipsed the 100 yard mark. Perriman had a career-high 153 yards and two touchdowns, Moore added 127 yards and a score, with Morton completing the trifecta with 102 yards and a fourth team touchdown.

Sanders became the fourth Lion 100 yard contributor with 138 yards rushing and a 50 yard touchdown run in the second half to solidify the victory.

While their season didn't end with a Super Bowl victory, 1995 boasted some of the best teams ever. Dallas, San Francisco, Buffalo, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, and Green Bay all possessed Hall of Fame talent on their rosters.

These talent-laden teams may have overshadowed Detroit’s spectacular season. 

Detroit’s players set numerous single-season records and created multiple highlights.

They etched Wayne Fontes name into the club’s record books becoming the winning-est coach in team history and their season included an upset win over reigning Super Bowl Champion 49ers.

All of the 1995 season records are still intact, Mitchell’s 4,338 passing yards ranks first overall, Moore and Perriman rank first and second overall with their receiving yards totals in 1995, and Sanders had his fifth best rushing yard total of his stunning career.

Detroit’s season faded from memory, though it does not erase the legacy of the Lions greatest team since the AFL merger.

 

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