The helmet flew across the locker room, somewhere in the bowels of what was then known as City Stadium. You might know it as Lambeau Field, in Green Bay.
The hurler of said helmet was beside himself with anger.
“Absolutely violent,” he would describe his state, some years later.
The noggin that was the target of the flung helmet belonged to a quarterback. The flinger was a defensive tackle.
Alex Karras might have killed Milt Plum, had he been more accurate.
Karras and the rest of the Lions’ defense had played their hearts out against the Packers, on the road, on a muddy and sloppy field in Green Bay. It was October, 1962, and this was a time when the Packers and the Lions were the unquestioned cream of the NFL’s Western Division.
The Lions nursed a 7-6 lead late in the fourth quarter. They held the ball, with about two minutes to play. It was third down, around midfield.
Football protocol dictates a running play, then a punt deep into the opponent’s end of the field.
But Plum, to everyone’s either horror, curiosity, or glee—depending on your perspective—faded back to pass.
“What’s he doing?,” Karras and linebacker Joe Schmidt cried from the sidelines.
Someone from the Lions—Plum never revealed who—got greedy and wanted a first down to put a nail into the Packers’ coffin. So instead of the safe running play, Plum went for a decidedly less safe passing play.
The Lions’ receiver, Terry Barr, slipped on the City Stadium mud, and fell. Plum’s pass was then easily picked off by DB Herb Adderley, who returned it deep into Lions’ territory.
A few moments later, Paul Hornung kicked the game-winning field goal.
Karras demanded to know who called such a hare-brained play. Plum, smugly, told Alex that it was none of his business.
Not long after uttering those words, Plum was ducking to avoid Karras’ helmet, hurled at him from across the room.
It was a gut-wrenching loss, certainly one of the worst the Lions endured in their history.
The Packers finished 13-1 that season—the only loss coming in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day, when the Lions sacked Bart Starr over 10 times.
The Lions went 11-3.
Quick math: if the Lions win that game in Green Bay, as they should have, they and the Packers would have been tied at the end of the season, 12-2.
Not sure about tiebreaker rules back then, but in head-to-head play, the Lions would have been 2-0 against Green Bay. At the very least, they would have played the Packers in a playoff to determine the divisional winner.
Those close to the Lions in those days say that the horrifying loss in Green Bay in October 1962 divided the team for years, and torpedoed any real chances of glory.
So time was, the Lions would fight each other—after games. In the regular season. About something meaningful.
Sometimes it seems as if the Lions of today are in competition with the Oakland Raiders to see who will be named Most Dysfunctional Team of the NFL. Heck, let’s give out two such awards—one for the NFC (Lions) and one for the AFC (Raiders, by 20 lengths).
The great thing about covering the Lions and following them is that you can never, EVER say, with any degree of certainty, “Well, I’ve seen just about everything now.”
Two Lions players, DE Dewayne White and TE Carson Butler, got into a scrap on Saturday night, some 30 minutes before game time, prior to a meaningless exhibition game in Cleveland. And White isn’t letting it go.
“We’re going to have bad blood for quite some time,” he said afterward.
Seriously, who gets into a pre-game fight, as members of the same team? In the preseason, no less?
Two teams come to mind: the Lions, of course—and the Raiders, whose head coach likes to use his assistants as punching bags, it seems.
New Lions coach Jim Schwartz has himself his first infighting, literally, among the troops. We’ll see how he handles it.
Can you imagine Grady Jackson throwing his helmet at Matthew Stafford?
Well, Jackson is no Karras (damn), and Stafford is no Plum (thank God).
The Lions can’t even fight themselves properly; so how do they figure on handling the rest of the league?