Chris Spielman and the Top 5 Hardest Hitters in Detroit Lions History
The 81-year history of the Detroit Lions is one rich in both talent and tradition.
Established as the Spartans in 1929 and given their current name upon moving to Detroit in 1934, the Lions are one of the league's oldest franchises.
From the elusive Barry Sanders to the legendary Bobby Layne, the Lions have long been greatly renowned for their accomplishments on the offensive side of the ball.
However, lost in its history are the brutal men of a callous breed. The cold-hearted monsters that played with an uncompromisingly ruthless mentality. These were defensive juggernauts, whose wins were forged at the bottom of the pile.
I’m not talking about Detroit Hall of Fame defensive ball hawks Lem Barney or Jack Christiansen.
I’m talking about the power hitters, men who were relentless in their pursuits.
Proper respect is due.
This is homage to the men that played with incredible instincts—men who intended not only to hit, but to destroy the ball carrier.
It was this apparent disregard of human safety that makes these five players the greatest hitters in Detroit Lions history.
5. Pat Swilling, Linebacker
Era in Detroit: 1993-1994 (2 Seasons)
College: Georgia Tech
Pro Bowl: 5x (1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993)
Hall of Fame: No
The Pat Swilling experiment only lasted two seasons in Detroit and is widely considered a failed venture.
He made only 10 sacks total in two years for Detroit after averaging 11 sacks a season in New Orleans.
In Swilling’s first season in the Detroit he would be selected to the fifth and final Pro Bowl of his 12-year career. Detroit would make the playoffs in each of Swilling’s two seasons with the team.
The former NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1991, Swilling was known for playing with a violent ferocity.
In trading for Swilling in 1993, the Lions gave up a first-round selection to the Saints that would ultimately turn out to be future Hall of Fame tackle Willie Roaf.
Additionally, upon the completion of the trade, the Lions would sign Swilling to a three-year deal that would make him the highest paid player in the NFL.
In 1992, NFL Films released a video called Master Blasters, which profiled the NFL's greatest, most powerful hitters. This video featured the likes of Lawrence Taylor, Derrick Thomas, Bruce Smith, Steve Atwater—and Pat Swilling.
4. Stephen Boyd, Linebacker
Era in Detroit: 1995-2001 (7 Seasons)
Weight: 242 Lbs.
College: Boston College
Pro Bowl: 2x (1999, 2000)
Hall of Fame: No
For seven seasons Stephen Boyd was the embodiment of the blue-collar spirit prevalent in the Motor City.
A former All-American at Boston College, Boyd was drafted in the fifth round of the 1995 NFL Draft by Detroit to study under Pro Bowl middle linebacker Chris Spielman.
When Spielman left for the Bills in 1996, Boyd was ready.
He made 192 tackles in his first season as a Lions starter in 1997, leading the team to its second NFC Wild Card game in three seasons.
Boyd would quickly become a fan favorite and the most important part of Detroit's defense, leading the team in tackles for the next six seasons.
Boyd was known in his years in Detroit for possessing the ability to hit with sledgehammer intensity.
It was his disregard for safety for both himself and his opponent that led to his retirement after only seven seasons in the NFL.
Stephen Boyd still ranks third on Detroit’s career tackling list.
3. Chris Spielman, Linebacker
Era in Detroit: 1988-1995 (8 Seasons)
College: Ohio State
Pro Bowl: 4x (1989, 1990, 1991, 1994)
Hall of Fame: No
NFL Draft "guru" Mel Kiper Jr. admits incorrectly evaluating the talents of Spielman, who entered the NFL in 1988 after playing at Ohio State. In 2001 Kiper said that he had underrated the linebacker.
“Captain Crunch” is Detroit’s all-time leading tackler and one of the hardest-hitting linebackers to ever play the game.
Aside from an injury-shortened 1990 season, Spielman led the Detroit Lions in tackles in every year he played for the team. His efforts include a team record for the highest single-season tally of tackles, with 195 in 1994.
In eight seasons for the Lions, Spielman was selected to four Pro Bowls and was named the team's defensive MVP twice.
If Joe Schmidt isn’t the greatest linebacker in Detroit’s history, then Chris Spielman is.
2. Joe Schmidt, Linebacker
Era in Detroit: 1953-1965 (13 Seasons)
Pro Bowl: 10x (1954-1963 Ten Straight Seasons)
Hall of Fame: Yes (1973)
As a rookie, Schmidt was integral in Detroit’s 10-2 regular season record and 1953 NFL Championship victory over the Cleveland Browns.
Schmidt served as a Detroit Lions captain for nine years before retiring in 1965.
His No. 56 jersey is one of only six retired by the Detroit Lions organization. Schmidt personally allowed list mate Pat Swilling to wear the number during Swilling's time with the Lions.
No player has ever worn it since.
Schmidt was a hard-hitting monster whose physicality made him a factor on every play. Statistically speaking, he had more than half the team’s tackles in a season multiple times. He was also a four-time Defensive Player of The Year selection.
In 1999, he was ranked number 65 on The Sporting News’ list of the 100 Greatest Football Players, and he is also a member of the 1950’s All-Decade Team.
When you’re talking about the greatest linebackers to ever play the game, you’re mentioning Schmidt somewhere in the conversation.
1. Dick “Night Train” Lane, Defensive Back
Era in Detroit: 1960-1965 (Six Seasons)
College: Scottsbluff Junior College (Undrafted)
Pro Bowl: 7x (1954, 1955, 1956, 1958, 1960-1962)
Hall of Fame: Yes (1974)
Together from 1960-1965, Dick Lane and Joe Schmidt completely dominated the opposition.
No player in the history of the National Football League instilled more fear in opposing players than “Night Train.” He is widely considered one of the greatest hitters to ever play the game.
You take Ronnie Lott and combine him with Ed Reed, and you have Lane. He was well ahead of his time.
Lane would let receivers catch the ball just so that he could lay them out. He made sure receivers were well aware of the consequences of catching the ball in his secondary.
Lane often targeted opponents' heads and necks, a technique fans dubbed the “Night Train Necktie.”
Lane was named first- or second-team All-NFL every year from 1954 through 1963.
In 1999, he was ranked number 19 on The Sporting News’ list of the 100 Greatest Football Players. He is also a member of the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time Team and the NFL 1950s All-Decade Team.
Los Angeles Rams fans will argue that he should have been enshrined in the Hall of Fame as a Ram as he recorded an NFL record 14 interceptions in his rookie year on the west coast.
However, Lane is rightfully enshrined as a Detroit Lion.