Detroit Lions: 0-for-Washington, Since 1939

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Detroit Lions: 0-for-Washington, Since 1939
Win McNamee/Getty Images

History tells us that the Detroit Lions shouldn’t even bother making the trip to Washington, D.C. this weekend.

Save the airplane fuel. Don’t bother packing the bags. Stay home this Sunday and spend some time with the family. Mow the lawn. Grill something.

Do anything, other than make the poor equipment people load up the tons of gear and fly it to the Nation’s Capital.

Why bother?

The Lions and the Washington Redskins have been in the NFL together since 1934 (the Redskins franchise played in Boston until 1937). And not once, in 76 years, have the Lions made the trip to Washington and won a football game.

It’s not like the Redskins have always been world beaters. Even in the years when the Lions were the superior team, the final score always had Washington on top, when the game was played in the shadow of the Monument.

The Lions should just phone this one in. Call in sick. Take the loss and get ready for the Chicago Bears on Sept. 29.

The Lions have never won in Washington, in some 80 years of being members of the NFL. True, Detroit doesn’t play there every year, but they have done so 21 times, and not once have they come away as winners.

From Sammy Baugh to Sonny Jurgensen to Joe Theismann to Doug Williams to Mark Rypien to Jason Campbell—it doesn’t matter who QBs the ‘Skins, they always win. It’s mattered even less who’s quarterbacked the Lions.

The Lions at Washington is like the Italian Army in any war. It’s Wiley Coyote at the Roadrunner. Charlie Brown kicking from the hold of Lucy.

When the Lions first played at Washington in 1939, they were beaten on the field. Then the series evolved to where the Lions were beaten on the bus trip to the stadium. Then they were beaten when the plane landed. Now, they’re beaten before the ink dries on the schedule.

Of all the seasons of losses in Washington, 1991 is perhaps the oddest.

In the opening week, the Lions, playing without RB Barry Sanders, laid a 45-0 egg against the Redskins. It was yet another loss in Washington, and on this occasion the Lions didn’t even belong on the same field as the ‘Skins.

Some 18 weeks or so later, the Lions returned to the scene of the slaughter, to participate in the NFC Championship Game.

After playing with the Redskins for a half, the Lions got run roughshod over after the intermission, losing 41-10. So in 1991, the Lions book ended their season with losses in D.C., just to freshen things up a bit.

They got outscored, 86-10, in the process.

The gridiron in Washington hasn’t been a football field for the Lions, it’s been a graveyard. The Lions team bus is accompanied by vultures. The stadium plays a funeral march when the team takes the field. Watching the Lions play in Washington is, as the late great sports writer Jim Murray would say, like watching a man walk into a noose.

The question isn’t will the Lions lose in Washington, but by how much and how. Period.

Will it be a pick-six on overtime? A bombardment of long touchdown passes for the Redskins? A mistake-filled afternoon by the Lions? An inability to stop the run (by the Lions, of course)? Will it be a blowout? A close-but-no-cigar affair?

All of the above have happened to the Lions in Washington, and more.

It’s the country’s longest-running comedy show, starting in the days of radio and continuing in the days of Internet streaming.

The Lions started playing in Washington when FDR was president. They were losers in the capital then, and they are losers now. Even the Washington Generals have beaten the Harlem Globetrotters a few times while the Lions have been losing to the ‘Skins on the road.

Race relations have made more progress than the Lions have made in Washington.

So why has a professional football team been unable to win in a particular city for 80 years? Even the 10-4 Lions of 1970, one of the best football teams assembled in Detroit, suffered a loss in Washington—and the Redskins were a mediocre team in 1970. The aforementioned 1991 Lions were 12-4, and one of those four losses was in D.C.

So what gives?

The Lions, clearly!

Much is made of the Lions inability to win in Green Bay, where they haven’t won since 1991. But that is ballyhooed because the Lions play the Packers twice every year. And, the Lions have won in Green Bay.

Yet in 80 years of being in the NFL, the Lions are 0-for-Washington.

They’re going give it another go on Sunday. Despite my advice, the bags are packed, the footballs are pumped up, and the game plans are set. The team practiced all week and the flight hasn’t been canceled, so I guess the Lions are going to go through with it, after all.

They’re going to fly to Washington, land, deboard, take a bus to their hotel and spend Saturday night dreaming of touchdowns and defensive stops. They’re going to imagine themselves walking off the field on Sunday as victors.

Dutch Clark couldn’t do it. Neither could Bobby Layne or Joe Schmidt. Lem Barney was never a winner in Washington nor was Charlie Sanders.

Sorry, Chuck Long. Scott Mitchell, you couldn’t win there either. (Mitchell was the one who threw the game-winning pick-six in overtime to Darrell Green in 1995.)

So you have to give this 2013 group of Lions an “A” for guts and gall. They fancy themselves as the squad that can fly home from Washington as winners. That the Redskins are 0-2 and not exactly one of the league’s best teams perhaps buoys them. But the quality of the two teams has meant diddlysquat in years past. It’s always been Goliath beating David, no matter what.

Detroit at Washington, NFL style. Forget the spread; take the ‘Skins. It’s the lock of the century, every time. The house always wins. It’s been the biggest waste of three hours on a Sunday for eight decades and counting.

Go figure.

 

 

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