Having been a Lions fan since I was born in 1968, I have some fond memories of my beloved Lions and some of their best players. I was lucky enough to see Barry Sanders play and see their only playoff win in my lifetime. I have also seen them trade away Erik Kramer in exchange for Scott Mitchell and draft Andre Ware, unfortunately, but I am not here to dwell on the franchises failures. With all the good feelings growing around The Detroit Lions, I wanted to concentrate on the better things. So, these are the 10 Best Lions I have seen during my lifetime.
Lets start with the obvious. Barry Sanders was the most dynamic player in football at the time. You watched the Lions to see what he would do. His first four runs would go for minus six yards, then POW!, he burns a 50 yarder for a TD. He tore more ACLs than the old Veterans Stadium astro turf.
Many people wondered what he would have accomplished with a better team or with a better front office, but the Lions were lucky to have him for his entire career. When it ended he finished with just under 16,000 yard rushing and 99 TDs to go with 10 Pro Bowl selections. No wonder he was a first ballot Hall of Famer.
Calvin Johnson is one of the best receivers in football today. The nickname "Megatron" fits him perfectly. He is a large imposing figure that is incredibly hard to defend, especially if you are an undersized DB. Since he has come into the league in 2007 (and as one of the few WRs Lions fans wanted drafted), he has been an awesome tool for any Lions QB (and that has been quite a few during his tenure).
The only question remaining about him is where he'll finish in Lions history. If he keeps it up it will be as the greatest Lions receiver ever.
Chris Spielman was my favorite Lions player ever, hands down. He was a leader on that defense and was respected throughout the league. Chris led the team in tackles through most of his career and was a class act off the field. He played football with intensity and respected its heritage so much that on his only TD in his career, he spiked himself with the ball. Why? Because that is how they used to do it.
When he was released in 1996, you could tell the Lions defense wasn't the same, and it has yet to get back to the level it was when Spielman was it's leader.
I have known two kickers in my time watching the Lions. Eddie Murray, who no one thought the Lions would be able to replace, and Jason Hanson, the guy who replaced him.
20 seasons later, (all with the Lions) he is considered one of the greatest kickers in NFL history—439 FGs, two Pro-Bowls, three time All Pro Selection, and a multiple record holder. The best part is that he still looks like he has a lot of leg left. Enough to break a few more records maybe?
There was a time when the Lions defense actually carried the team.
Defensive end Robert Porcher was a feared part of that defense. Offensive coordinators needed to game plan for him. He was another weapon on a defense that featured Bennie Blades and Chris Spielman. Porcher finished his 12 year career with 95.5 sacks and all with the Lions and was quietly one of the best DEs in the mid 90s. Unfortunately, in the twilight of his career, the Lions began their decade of futility. He could have gone to another team or demanded a trade, but he stayed with the Lions, still giving them his all.
Erik Kramer wasn't with the Lions long, but in his three years with the team he was, in my opinion, the best QB the Lions had since Bobby Layne.
While with the Lions, he was 281 of 509 with 3408 yards passing and 23 TDs, and that was without ever playing an entire season. Also Kramer led the Lions to the playoffs two out of the three years he was in Detroit.
In 1993, the Lions were almost out of playoff contention until Kramer was put in at starting QB. He not only got them in to the playoffs, but they also won the NFC Central. It was the last time they would do so. It was a shame that the pride and greed of the Lions organization forced him out. I think they were a great fit and I hate to think how different things could have been if they had kept him.
Herman Moore was the second most important offensive weapon the Lions had behind Barry. His career birthed 670 receptions to go with 9,174 yards and 62 TDs in an 11 year carrier—all of which are still Lions records. He made the Pro Bowl four times and, in 1995, became part of the only receiving tandem (with Brett Perriman) to have over 100 receptions. That same year Moore, Perriman, and Johnnie Morton became the only receivers to have over 100 yards each in the same game.
He eclipsed 100 receptions three times in his career (Jerry Rice was the only other person to have done that at the time) and held the single season reception record of 123 until Randy Moss broke it in 2007. To add to it all, The Lions made the playoffs six times during his tenure.
Yep, imagine what he could have done with consistency at the QB position.
With the second pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, the Lions picked Ndamukong Suh. This was the turning point of the franchise.
In his rookie year he had 10 1/2 sacks, 1 INT, won the NFL Defensive Rookie of the year, was a Pro Bowl selection, gained the respect of offensive coordinators and struck fear in QBs. He is aggressive, mean, and a physical beast.
Not to mention, he makes others on the D-line more potent. Avril, Vanden Bosch, Williams, and eventually Farley, all benefit from his play and the double teams we will get on a regular basis.
Suh could quite possibly end up being the greatest defensive tackles in Lions History.
When you think of Billy Sims, the unfortunate thing one thinks of is "What if?"
In his five seasons, he amassed over 5000 yards and 42 TDs. Sims was selected to the Pro Bowl three times and won Rookie of the Year honors. During his five years the Lions either won or contended for the NFC Central and made the playoffs twice.
In 1983 he came a missed field goal away from going to the NFC Championship game to face the Redskins. Unfortunately, in 1984, he suffered a knee injury against the Vikings. He would never play another down.
Lucky for us the third Lions great to wear No. 20 was drafted five years later.
Charlie Sanders is the greatest Tight End in Lions history and one of only two Lions players drafted in my lifetime to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He is a seven time Pro Bowl Tight End and was a member of the 1970s all decade team.
In 2008, Charlie Sanders was made a member of the All Time Lions Team. At the end of his 10 year career (all with the Lions), he had 336 receptions, 4817 yards receiving and 36 TDs. He was the the clutch guy Greg Landry needed in 1970 when he had 544 yards on 40 receptions averaging 13.6 yards a reception in route to their first playoffs in the Super Bowl Era. The Lions have not had that a dominant of a TE since.
Are there potential greats on the Lions right now? Time will tell. Brandon Pettigrew looks to be a potential Pro Bowl Tight End. If Matt Stafford can stay healthy, he could be the QB Lions fans have been waiting for. Add to that list, Cliff Avril, Jahvid Best, Louis Delmas, Jeff Backus, and Dominic Raola, and the Lion's future is looking pretty bright.
Maybe I'll have to wear my Honolulu blue and silver shades.