Greg Eno

Archive for the ‘Lions’ Category

Vikes’ Prayer In 1980 Yet Another Example Of Their Luck Against Lions

In Lions, Minnesota Vikings on October 10, 2008 at 2:57 pm

(every Friday during the NFL season, OOB will run a nostalgic feature about the Lions’ upcoming opponents)

After 28 years, I’m still not sure who I’m more angry at: the Cleveland Browns, or Ahmad Rashad.

It’s been well-documented here, my hatred for the Minnesota Vikings. It began in the early-1970s, when the Vikes would routinely finish first, the Lions second, and a lot of that was because the Vikings beat them like a drum. From 1968-’74, the Vikings beat the Lions 13 straight times, and some of those games were of the fluky variety. The other frustrating thing was that the Lions actually fielded some pretty respectable teams in those days, yet the Vikings beat them anyway.

The Vikes are off on another “beat Detroit” streak (15 of 17, plus 10 straight at home), but this one isn’t as impressive, or as maddening, because: a) EVERYONE has been on a “beat Detroit” streak lately, and b) the Vikings haven’t really won anything lately, either.

I could recount more than a few weird Lions-Vikings games. There was the one in ’76 at the Silverdome. I listened to that one on the radio. The Lions were down 10-3 in the waning moments of the fourth quarter. But they were driving for the tying touchdown. The drive seemed like it lasted forever when you’re looking at a radio dial. Then, the Lions finally scored their touchdown, well past the two-minute warning. I could hear the Silverdome crowd go wild.

All the Lions needed to do was kick the extra point, and there’d be overtime.

Well, the Vikings blocked the XP. They were good at blocking Lions kicks. They did it to the Lions in Minnesota a few years earlier, thwarting a potential game-winning FG by Errol Mann.

That’s the way the Vikings would beat the Lions, and other teams: blocked kicks; fumble recoveries; interceptions; and just dumb luck.

In 1980, it got so ridiculous that the Vikings beat the Lions — without even playing them.

It was the “Another One Bites The Dust” year for the Lions — when they got off to a 4-0 start and some of them, full of themselves and giddy, recorded the bastardized version of Queen’s song.

But 4-0 quickly turned to 7-7. Then the Lions won their final two games to finish 9-7. The Central Division was lousy that year; their only real challengers were the Vikings, naturally.

The Vikings were 8-6 after 14 games. But their last two games were against Cleveland, at home, and at Houston — two tough contests. The Lions knew that if they finished 9-7, there’d be a good chance that the Vikings would finish 8-8, giving the Lions the divisional title. The Lions did their part. But the Vikings had some more of that luck of the devil that they were so famous for.

The Browns led them, 23-21. The Vikings had the ball, but they were too far away for a field goal try. There was only one hope: the Hail Mary.

Perhaps you’ve seen the play. And perhaps you weren’t aware of its significance to the Lions until now. QB Tommy Kramer heaved the ball, some 50 yards from the goal line. Several Vikings and Browns ran beneath it. The ball came down and was tipped back into the air — but not very high. Yet just high enough to fall into the lucky arms of WR Ahmad Rashad, who was kind of backpedaling into the end zone when he caught the prayer.

Vikings win, 28-23, to go to 9-6. That win effectively killed the Lions’ chances, because even though the Vikes lost to the Oilers, their 9-7 record was better than the Lions’ 9-7, due to a tiebreaker: the Vikes were 8-4 in the NFC, the Lions were 9-5. The Vikings got into the playoffs by percentage points because of a stupid tiebreaker. Typical.

The Browns didn’t care; they were having an 11-5 season, and the loss to Minnesota didn’t affect them in the least.

The only consolation is that the Vikings got their asses kicked by the Eagles in the playoffs, 31-16.

Oh, and did I mention that Billy Sims suffered his career-ending knee injury in Minnesota?

I’ll always hate the Vikings. Always.

Lions’ Big Top Full Of Yuks And Side-Splitting Escapades

In Lions on October 6, 2008 at 3:52 pm

My goodness, what will Peyton Manning do to them? Or Jake Delhomme? Or Kerry Collins?

The Lions are mostly a G-rated team, for isn’t that the category under which you’d place the circus? They’re real knee-slappers, those Lions are. Steve Sabol and his NFL Films people need only capture the Lions’ games, no one else’s, on celluloid for their next “Football Follies” special.

You’ve seen the outtakes before. Look! The quarterback fades back to pass, and throws the ball, and … nobody’s there! Ha ha! Isn’t that funny? Or lookie there — the Bears’ quarterback fades back to pass, and throws the ball, and … nobody’s there — from the other team, that is. Or how about this? The Lions win a challenge, keep the football after a near-fumble, then throw a pick six almost immediately thereafter! And here’s another B-list QB — Kyle Orton — having a “career day.” All while that calliope music plays. You can practically smell the elephant ears and the caramel apples.

Stop, stop — you’re killing me!

Some things automatically elicit laughter, just on their mere mention.

A beleaguered stand-up comic only need to mention Cleveland, or Hoboken, and he’ll get some cheap laughs. Military intelligence.

The Detroit Lions!

I’m doubled over right now, convulsing in laughter.

Listen to the starting wide receiver bellyache about not getting the ball enough! Now watch as the QB throws it to him, as requested, and — the receiver drops it! Now hear the receiver tell everyone afterward that the Lions are 0-4 but “are better than that.”

Yes sir — step right up and listen to the head football coach spew cliches and talk about watching film and say things like, “The execution wasn’t there,” and “I don’t live for the future”, and “It’s on me.” Just pull the string — six different catch phrases will play randomly, for your listening pleasure!

Guaranteed laughs, folks! Watch the funny, funny football team fall behind 21-0! 21-3! 31-0!

It’s a laugh riot — so why do some people wear such sour pusses?

My friend Big Al over at TWFE — he’s taking it so personally! The Lions are killing him, when they should be tickling his ribs, as they do with me.

But I forgive Big Al, for he obviously hasn’t made the metamorphosis. He still is fighting to get out of the cocoon. Once he makes it out, he’ll be a much happier man. Also guaranteed.

I’m free. Liberated. The Lions cannot hurt me any more. I revel in this, I really do. They’ve lost me — at least for now, and it’s exhilirating. My Sundays are no longer ruined. My Mondays are happier, too. Mainly because I get to laugh at not only the Lions, but at all the poor saps who still live and die with this group of stiffs.

How can you get mad at a team when they clearly have no talent? How can you scold them when they do not know what they do? It’s like yelling at a toddler for spilling the apple juice.

I finally realized that this season, after the opening loss in Atlanta. I don’t care anymore. I hope the Lions go 1-15, or even 0-16. I could use laughs all the way through December, what with the pressures of the holiday season descending.

One reason I’m so insulated is because I know that the more the Lions lose, and the worse they lose, it’s another nail being pounded into the Rod Marinelli coffin. Just more assurance that the Eno Plan will continue and Marinelli will be gone, and the Lions might have the no. 1 overall draft pick, under a regime that just might know what to do with it.

A fresh start!

The Lions are funny. I’m serious — they’re funny. Come on — you know it’s true. I remember the 2-14 seasons of 1979 and 2001, and the 3-13 years of 2002 and 2006, and I’m telling you that those teams could wipe up the floor with this bunch.

The 2008 Lions are simply outrageous. Hilarious.

The quarterback? That’s a good one — next?

The running backs? Mediocre at best.

The offensive line? I’m giggling again, stop it.

The receivers? You mean the guys with mini-trampolines inside their jerseys that cause the football to bounce off them all the time? That was REALLY clever, whoever came up with that contraption.

The defensive line? The guys who treat the opposing quarterback like he’s made of nitroglycerin?

The defensive backs and linebackers? You mean the bunch who couldn’t create a turnover even if you gave them a Pillsbury can and the doughboy for instruction? Those guys are pretty funny too, real cut ups.

The kick returners? My sides are hurting, PLEASE stop!

So why is everyone screaming and carrying on and getting all mad and stuff?

The Lions are high schoolers playing in the National Football League. What do you expect?

Laugh. It’s the best alternative to crying.

After Just One Week, The Lions Have Already "Accomplished" A Lot

In Atlanta Falcons, Lions on September 8, 2008 at 1:32 pm

In 1969, the Pittsburgh Steelers opened the season with a rookie head coach, at home, and were coming off a hideous 1968 season in which they went 2-11-1. Their opponents? The Detroit Lions. The result? The Steelers won, 16-13.

But then the Steelers went on to lose the remaining 13 games on their schedule. And the Lions regrouped to finish 9-4-1. The rookie Steelers coach? Just someone named Chuck Noll.

Now, I don’t mean to say that the Atlanta Falcons will go 1-15 (although the Carolina Panthers did that a few years back, with a rookie QB in tow, after winning on Opening Day) — and I ESPECIALLY don’t mean to say that the Lions will finish 11-5 or something wacky like that. I just mean to point out that, as usual, just when you think that the Lions have done something new in the negative column, turns out that in their inglorious past they already did it.

Yesterday, the “new and improved” Lions defense made rookie QB Matt Ryan and his running back tandem of Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood look like, well, Noll’s combo of Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, and Rocky Bleier during the Steelers’ heyday.

But I doubt that any of the Steelers’ opponents in the 1970s ever tackled as atrociously as the Lions did in Atlanta.

It was beyond annoying, or even beyond “the same old Lions”. It wasn’t even funny. It was disgusting and embarrassing. The Lions have done this before, too — made pedestrian running backs look like Jim Brown. But never have they done it with such a feeble effort as was witnessed in the Georgia Dome. It was a nightmare, watching Turner and Norwood cut through the Lions like a hot knife through butter.

It’s funny, but despite the Lions’ woes in the Matt Millen Era, they entered yesterday with a 4-1 record in their five previous openers. And we all know how those years have turned out — which is also why the Falcons and their fans should be careful before they anoint Ryan and think that 2008 is going to be “their year.” After all, they beat the Lions, not the Cowboys.

Still, the Lions were supposedly going to win this game, and not necessarily because they were 4-0 in the preseason. They are supposed to be, simply, the better team. Not all that much better, but better. And certainly not bad enough to fall behind the Falcons 21-0 before 1:30 in the afternoon.

But that’s exactly what the Lions did, and despite a gallant second quarter comeback — a quarter in which they did not abandon the run, a la Mike Martz — the hole was too big. Kind of like the holes Turner and Norwood found as the Lions’ front seven put up as much resistance as balsa wood.

So here we were, barely 20 minutes of football into the new season, and the Lions are down 21-zip and there’s QB Jon Kitna getting into it with receivers coach Shawn Jefferson. I mean, really getting into it. Made me think of Buddy Ryan socking Kevin Gilbride in the face in Houston, back in the day. But, we were told, this sort of thing happens all the time, and so it was no big deal. It just happened to be played out in front of the TV cameras. But the TV cameras are everywhere anymore, and I don’t recall seeing that kind of display on a weekly basis. Whatever. But maybe Kitna and Jefferson should squabble more often; post-blowup, the Lions went on a 14-0 run.

Week 1 is in the books, and already the Lions have: a) made a rookie QB look as comfy as a puppy snuggled in a box in a blanket; b) turned two average RBs into Harris and Bleier; c) given a rookie head coach his first win; d) had in-fighting on their sideline; e) experienced yet another Dan Campbell injury (hamstring); f) cast aspersions on coach Rod Marinelli’s “kind of players”; g) had one of their front-line players insist the team isn’t that bad (Cory Redding).

Ahh, Redding. Quoting him, Redding said, “Don’t be writing us off yet. We’re good. We just didn’t show up.”

Great! Opening Day and the team is already not showing up. I feel much better now, Cory — thanks!

Next up: the Packers, who are likely to come into Detroit and cheese whiz all over the place.

Falcons Used To Be Annual Lions Victims, Believe It Or Not

In Atlanta Falcons, Lions on September 5, 2008 at 3:08 pm

(every Friday during the NFL season, OOB will run a nostalgic feature about the Lions’ upcoming opponents)


The Atlanta Falcons’ running back hit the line, then bounced outside, to the left. He picked up positive yardage, then the whistle blew. Then the game was stopped — unheard of in today’s NFL, if it doesn’t involve a television commercial or an injury. A brief ceremony was held, right there on the field. And the Falcons, presumably with the NFL’s blessing, honored Dave Hampton as he became the first runner in team history to gain 1,000 yards in one season.

The opponents were the Kansas City Chiefs, and Hampton, 25, was sitting at 1,001 yards for the season, in its final game. The game was resumed.

On his next rushing attempt, Hampton was nailed for a six-yard loss. He wouldn’t get another carry. So he finished the season with 995 yards — but the Falcons didn’t un-honor him. That would have been tacky — almost as tacky as honoring him before the game ended, knowing that such an embarrassing thing could happen.

Hampton rushed for 997 yards in 1973, then missed ’74 with an injury. But he finally got his 1,000 when he hit for 1,002 in 1975 and was named the Comeback Player of the Year.

The embarrassment with Hampton in ’72 was typical for the Falcons, who needed 13 seasons in the league before finally making the playoffs in 1978.

But they could be fun, with Norm Van Brocklin as their second coach.


Van Brocklin as a Rams QB in the 1950s

The Dutchman coached the Falcons from 1968-74, and he wasn’t exactly known as someone with a long fuse. He was like that as an All-Pro quarterback with the Rams and the Eagles, and the way he was as the first coach of the Minnesota Vikings, when he practically ran Fran Tarkenton out of town by himself.

One of Van Brocklin’s rants was caught by the NFL Films cameras and microphones. The Dutchman was mocking Steelers DB Paul Martha.

“Ah, Martha….you couldn’t cover me!”, Van Brocklin bellowed. When someone on the Falcons sideline laughed, admiring the line, VB turned and chuckled devilishly.

Van Brocklin’s temper and impatience with his team boiled over, though, and he was fired by the Falcons midway thru the ’74 season.

The Lions, incidentally, used to beat the Falcons like a pinata. The first nine times the Lions played them, the Falcons lost. How’d you like THAT distinction? To be dominated by the Detroit Lions for 11 years — 11 years in which the Lions made the playoffs once?

But those were the Atlanta Falcons. Now they’re back toward the bottom again, among the dregs of the league. The Michael Vick Era is over with, but the stench left behind is still wafting. But there’s a new prized rookie quarterback, and Joey Harrington is gone. Life could be worse in Atlanta.

New RB Johnson Needs An O-Line, Just Like Every Back In History Not Named Barry Sanders

In Barry Sanders, Lions, Rudi Johnson on September 2, 2008 at 2:17 pm

As far as I’m concerned, the only running back I ever saw that didn’t need the benefit of an offensive line was Barry Sanders. Barry was also the only runner I know who showed you something that you’d never seen before — every single week. Most of it, I’ll bet that you’ve never seen since. Or ever will, again.

So it’s nice that the Lions have continued their relentless pursuit of a running game by inking RB Rudi Johnson, the erstwhile Bengals back. He worked out for the team over the weekend, looked good by all accounts, and has the locker room abuzz. Johnson’s signing might mean the end — again — of Tatum Bell’s future in Detroit. Poor Tatum.

Of course, Johnson won’t help the Lions, and nor will rookie Kevin Smith, or Bell, or the other rookie, Marcus Thomas — not at all, if the o-line doesn’t get its act together. Barry’s long gone, and gone with him is that not-human-way he had of making tacklers miss, even those who didn’t have to bother with the annoyance of being blocked.

When Sanders left the Lions on the eve of training camp in 1999, we knew that we’d never see the likes of him again. But I don’t think we truly believed that the Lions would never have a running game again, some nine years later. But with the exception of a decent James Stewart year in the early part of this century, and a hot second half by Kevin Jones in 2004, the Lions’ running game has been mostly non-existent. It’s another of those downers that’s coincided with the Matt Millen Era, but this one is strange because Millen, as a player and a broadcaster, was a big proponent of smash mouth football. Yet he’s fashioned a team built on finesse and tippy toes.

New offensive coordinator Jim Colletto seems to be connecting to his players, and the o-line is also committed to chewing up clock and running the football. Yes, it’s one thing to say and another to do; but in the past it hasn’t even been said all that much — at least not by the right people.


New Lions RB Rudi Johnson


A word now about Smith, the rookie from Central Florida. There’s a certain brashness about him that I like. It’s not Roy Williams-like, which I think is largely for show as opposed to being anything substantive. Smith, in training camp, wasn’t shy to talk about how he plans on bringing the Lions their running game, all by himself if need be, and that he sees himself as another Adrian Peterson type. I was impressed with his ability to be confident without appearing to be obnoxious or talking out of the wrong orifice, if you know what I mean.

I like the Rudi Johnson signing because the Lions saw that they still had a need, even after camp and the exhibition season, and weren’t afraid to add another player after the roster was supposedly “set.” Plus, he has history in the league as being a productive player. I don’t know the terms of the one-year deal, but I’m guessing they didn’t break the bank, either.

It would appear as if the Lions are headed in the right direction. They addressed needs in the secondary, and while they may be a little D-line heavy and LB thin, the overall defense should be improved. They drafted a beast of an OT in the first round. They acquired some runners. They laid off the receiving corps for a change. I’d still like to see a backup QB with NFL experience, but I guess we’ll just have to hope for another injury-free year from Jon Kitna, which would be three years in a row — and that’s rolling the dice in today’s NFL.

I’m not a prediction guy, but I think we’re still looking at 7-9, 8-8. The Lions may be a better team this year than they were in 2007 yet end up with much the same record. It’s a year where their development shouldn’t be solely judged by the won-loss record.

Lions’ Version Of "LT" Also A Playmaker

In Leonard Thompson, Lions on August 29, 2008 at 2:10 pm

(with NFL training camps in full swing, and the Lions celebrating their 75th anniversary, OOB will profile various Lions coaches and players throughout history every Friday between now and the regular season opener)

There’s a video clip that you must have seen; it would almost be impossible NOT to. You see it on some NFL Films blooper reels, wacky promos for the league, and even for TV shows that have nothing to do with the NFL, per se.

It’s of a Lions receiver chasing an errant pass out of bounds. And when he crosses the white sideline, he gets jabbed right in the gut with the business end of an orange first down marker.

The receiver, no. 39, is Leonard Thompson. And I remember seeing that play happen, live. It was in 1983, in Anaheim against the Rams. It was a Lions loss, and afterward it led to coach Monte Clark’s famous, “See you at the cemetery” line as he spoke in funereal tones to the reporters. Clark’s Lions had fallen to 1-4; he figured he was a goner. Monte survived, the Lions finished 9-7, and won the Central Division.

But back to Leonard Thompson.

Thompson, a Lion from 1975-86, never caught a lot of passes in any one given season. But he was a big play guy. From ’78-’83, Thompson averaged 19.6 yards per reception — including an almost unheard of 26.9 ypc in 1980. Yet the most passes Thompson ever caught in a season was 51, in 1985. He wasn’t a big YAC (yards after catch) guy; Thompson simply would run down the field, and the Lions’ quarterback du jour would let the ball fly, and Thompson would often come down with it.


Thompson, making yet another big play: Thanksgiving Day, 1983

So many things about Leonard Thompson, I recall.

He was a superior punt blocker, too. I don’t know how many he blocked, but it was a lot. None was bigger than a game I watched on TV in 1977.

The Lions were in Baltimore, finishing out the string one the next-to-last Sunday of the season. They were 5-7; the powerful Colts were 9-3, after a 9-1 start. The Colts held a 10-6 lead late in the fourth quarter. And they were back to punt, deep in their own end.

Thompson, as was his trademark, used his blazing speed to rush from the outside. He timed his leap perfectly, and blocked the punt. The ball bounced into the end zone, and the Lions recovered for the game-winning touchdown. I remember Memorial Stadium being deathly quiet.

Thompson was also the recipient of Chuck Long’s first NFL TD pass — a long heave, as usual (about 35 yards) — in Tampa Bay in 1986.

And Lions fans who are old enough to recall the competitive teams of the early-1980s will remember Thompson running reverses, averaging 10 yards a pop from 1980-83.

Thompson was also an active member in the Metro Detroit community, volunteering his time for many worthy causes.

Probably few people, anymore, know who Leonard Thompson is (especially outside of Detroit), and even the funny video clip of that receiver getting jabbed by the first down marker won’t jog their memories; to them, he’s just a nameless football player who had something humorous happen to him in a game sometime, in some year.

But when Thompson touched the ball — whether as a receiver, a runner, or a punt blocker — good things usually happened for the Lions. And how many people not named Barry Sanders or Billy Sims can you say that about over the past 30 years or so?


(Pro-Football-Reference.com provided the statistics for this post)

Marinelli Should Be Run Out Of Town If Kitna Plays Against Bills

In Jon Kitna, Lions, Rod Marinelli on August 27, 2008 at 3:07 pm

The Lions have one more exhibition game — against the Bills in Buffalo tomorrow night. If starting quarterback Jon Kitna plays one down, then head coach Rod Marinelli ought to be fired.

Actually, firing him would be too good for him. The coach should be tortured — forced to watch a Facts of Life marathon, or some other heinous thing. Then we should consider some concrete shoes and a dunk in the Detroit River.

The Lions might not be all that in 2008, but they will finish somewhere south of the equator if Kitna goes down for any length of time. He’s no Joe Montana or Johnny Unitas, but he’s the best the Lions have, easily, behind center. And his three cameos in the pre-season, against other teams’ starters, suggest that he’s more than ready to go when the curtain rises for real, September 7 in Atlanta.

So why tempt fate and play Kitna against the Bills? What good can come from such an appearance? But plenty can go wrong.

Let me take you back to 1979. The Lions were coming off a 1978 season where they finished strong, winning six of their last nine games. Leading the charge was former World Football League QB Gary Danielson, from Dearborn Divine Child and Purdue University. Danielson peaked against the Vikings on the final Saturday of the season, throwing and running the Lions to a 45-14 win. Some so-called experts predicted some big things for the Lions in ’79.

Then came the final exhibition game, in Baltimore.

Danielson, needlessly appearing in the game, scrambled out of trouble. Only, he didn’t quite make it. He went down in a heap after being caught, and mangled his knee. Out for the season — done, after a meaningless play in a meaningless game. Then, suddenly, the Lions’ regular season turned meaningless.

Veteran Joe Reed was elevated to no. 1, but Reed was about as mobile as a telephone pole, and before long he was gone, too, to injury. That left the Lions’ offense in the rookie hands of Jeff Komlo. The team finished 2-14, with Danielson on crutches and Reed recuperating. Danielson returned in 1980, and the Lions finished 9-7. It was no coincidence.

Now let me take you to 2003. Final pre-season game. Running back James Stewart, playing for God knows what reason, goes down with a career ending (ultimately) shoulder injury.

The Lions, as usual, have no capable backup quarterback — no veteran who can step in and run the show. The roster shows Dan Orlovsky, an injured Drew Stanton, and recently signed Drew Henson. The thought of Kitna going down ought to make your skin crawl.

So why there’s even any question whether Kitna should suit up and enter the game in Buffalo tomorrow night, is anyone’s guess. I don’t even want him to trot on the field, only to be called back to the sideline. He may suffer a season-ending toe stub, with the Lions’ luck. Certainly bring Kitna along for the plane ride, and let him help out on the sideline, baseball cap and earphone adorning his bald head. But don’t let him anywhere near a huddle, unless it’s the post-game prayer.

According to the papers, Marinelli hasn’t confirmed yet whether Kitna will play tomorrow, nor how much, if he does. Again, there hasn’t been a no-brainer this obvious since Moses pondered whether to part the Red Sea.

Yes, it’s true that (God forbid) Kitna could go down in the regular season opener. But losing a QB, or any front line player, in a game that counts in the standings is a lot easier to swallow than to lose one in any game played before Labor Day. And yes, Kitna has proven to be durable; he has started all 32 games since he’s been a Lion. He’s barely missed any playing time due to injury (last year’s concussion against the Vikings notwithstanding). Still, only bad things can happen when you play your starting quarterback in the fourth and final pre-season game — the Mother of All Meaningless Games. The only players who the fourth pre-season game means anything to are those fighting for roster spots. With the trio of quarterbacks below him on the depth chart, Jon Kitna hardly has to wage THAT battle. So don’t play him. Not for one down. Don’t even let him put his helmet on.

The head coach is no dumb-dumb. He should get that, shouldn’t he?

Pureifory’s Brutality Nearly Ended A Lion’s Career Before It Started

In Dave Pureifory, Keith Dorney, Lions on August 22, 2008 at 3:14 pm

(with NFL training camps in full swing, and the Lions celebrating their 75th anniversary, OOB will profile various Lions coaches and players throughout history every Friday between now and the regular season opener)

For all of their warts over the past 51 years since the last NFL Championship team to come from Detroit, the Lions have often excelled in one area: the defensive line. It was a great strength of the bridesmaids teams of the early-1960s, and was a force to be reckoned with in the early-1970s. Then, right on cue, the Lions’ D-line once again rose to prominence in the early-1980s. And those 1980s front fours included an undersized SOB who nearly made one of the Lions’ best offensive linemen quit during his rookie season.

Dave Pureifory was a short, stocky defensive end/tackle who played on some of the best teams Eastern Michigan University ever fielded. The 1971 Hurons (yes, they were Hurons before they became Eagles) actually played in a bowl game, albeit one for smaller colleges. One of the defensive captains was Pureifory. But a combination of playing for a lesser-known school (especially when it came to football) and being relatively short (he was VERY generously listed as being 6-foot-1) worked against him, and so he wasn’t drafted until the sixth round in 1972, by Green Bay.

Quietly, Pureifory made a name for himself in the NFL. He played on some bad Packers teams, and so yet again he was shoved to the back burner. But those in the know — opposing O-linemen and quarterbacks and runners — respected Pureifory for his cat-like quickness and brute strength. He also possessed an intangible so important for successful front four guys: an insatiable, almost ravenous appetite for tackling and inflicting punishment. Plus, he had a very nasty disposition, which added to his legend. It was this snarling, spitting part of his personality that almost led to Pureifory causing Keith Dorney to quit before the rookie tackle played a down in the NFL.


Pureifory as a Packer in his early NFL days


Dorney, in his book, Black and Honolulu Blue, described how Pureifory made his life “hell” in Dorney’s first training camp with the Lions in 1979. Pureifory was relentless. Dorney, a prized rookie from Penn State, couldn’t block no. 75. The veteran was making the touted newbie look awful. And he took great pleasure in doing so.

Dorney related how Pureifory would add insult to injury by verbally attacking the rookie and mocking his efforts to block him. Pureifory wouldn’t let up. No one on the field — coaches or teammates — tried to intervene on Dorney’s behalf. So the abuse — both physical and verbal/mental — continued throughout camp. Dorney was so shaken by Pureifory’s brutality that he nearly quit football altogether. His confidence was shot.

Until one day.

Dorney was walking off the field, dejected as usual after another tough practice. Then Pureifory joined him for the walk back to the dormitories. Dorney braced himself.

Yet Pureifory came not to bury Dorney, but to praise him. He told the rookie that he was going to be a great NFL tackle, and he inferred that a lot of the smack talk was done to “toughen” Dorney up. The conversation was brief, and one-sided. But it impacted Dorney for years — so much so that he called Pureifory the “toughest” guy he’s ever played with or against in the NFL.

Pureifory was part of the Lions’ “Silver Rush” front four that bordered on being dominant from 1980-82. And Pureifory himself bordered on being dominant at times. Keith Dorney wasn’t the only tackle who had trouble blocking him.

After leaving the Lions following the 1982 season (he had seven sacks in just nine games), Pureifory tried his luck in the USFL with the Michigan Panthers and the Birmingham Stallions. I doubt very many OL dudes had much luck blocking him there, either.

As for Dorney, good thing Pureifory had that chat with him, or else the Lions would have maybe missed out on one of the best offensive tackles in their history.

Owens’s Knees Did To Him What Opposing Tacklers Could Not

In Lions, Steve Owens on August 15, 2008 at 2:54 pm

(with NFL training camps in full swing, and the Lions celebrating their 75th anniversary, OOB will profile various Lions coaches and players throughout history every Friday between now and the regular season opener)

Detroit Lions running backs and their knees have often been at odds with each other. Many careers have been sidetracked or halted altogether — promising careers, too — because of that traditional NFL bugaboo, the recurring knee injury.

There was Nick Eddy, whose knee trouble actually began in college, at Notre Dame. But he had such an upside when healthy that the Lions took a flyer on him in the 1966 draft anyway. For this the Lions could hardly be blamed, because if Eddy had stayed healthy, he would have been something. But from 1967-72, Eddy could barely stay on the field due to one knee injury after another.

There was Mel Farr, who had to hang them up in 1974 before his 30th birthday due to ravaged knees.

And who can forget Billy Sims, who was tackled by Minnesota’s Walker Lee Ashley in 1984 in the midst of a great season, statistically, and would never play another down in the NFL, retiring in 1986 at age 31.

Between Farr and Sims there was Steve Owens.

Owens, from Oklahoma, was the Lions’ first-round draft choice in 1970, the Heisman Trophy winner for 1969. He didn’t play much in his rookie season, but in ’71, Owens became the franchise’s first 1,000-yard rusher, and its last until Sims did it in 1980. In the 14-game season in ’71, Owens rushed for 1,035 yards. He was the prototypical NFL fullback: tough, with little speed, but with a propensity for running OVER people as opposed to around them. And he could catch a football, too, as well as block rushing linebackers. In that ’71 season, Owens added 32 catches for 350 yards, giving him nearly 1,400 total yards from scrimmage.


Portrait of an NFL fullback: Steve Owens


But Owens hurt himself in 1972 and spent most of the next three seasons trying to stay on the field. Finally, it all came to a head on Thanksgiving Day, 1974.

It was also the Lions’ last home game ever at Tiger Stadium. The opponent was the Denver Broncos. And Owens, damning the torpedoes as usual, tried to gain some extra yardage with second effort on one particular play. His knee popped.

Owens gave it a go for a couple more years, but could never make it all the way back as an active player. He finally officially retired in 1976, at age 28. Yet he managed to score 20 rushing TDs as a Lion, and rushed for over 2,400 yards. Not awesome numbers, but serviceable for his limited action.

I rooted hard for Owens to recover from his severe knee injury, as I remember my father rooting hard for Eddy, who was one of my dad’s favorites. When Sims tried like mad to make it back during the summers of 1985 and ’86, I remember having much the same feeling I had when I watched Owens struggle, some ten years earlier.

The running back injuries with the Lions haven’t been limited to the knee. James Stewart (shoulder) and Kevin Jones (foot) have fallen victim. Another knee victim was veteran Wilbert Montgomery, the ex-Eagle who was signed to replace, ironically, Sims.

The Lions aren’t the only team to have its backs ravaged by injuries. Take a peek at the New Orleans Saints’ history in this area (especially in the 1980s and ’90s), if you want another extreme example. And, for all the Lions’ bad luck in the backfield, there was Barry Sanders, who managed to stay virtually injury-free in 10 seasons.

Steve Owens, old no. 36. Last week I wrote about another Oklahoma running back, Joe Don Looney, and his bizarre escapades. Owens was about as 180 degrees away from Looney as you can get. They were both Sooners, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end.

The Oklahoma connection, though, was pretty good to the Lions: Owens, Sims, Sanders (Oklahoma State).

Owens, after his football career, became a successful Detroit-area businessman, then eventually returned to his alma mater as Athletic Director at Oklahoma in the 1990s. The university erected a statue of Owens in 2006 on campus. You can view it at his Wikipedia page, HERE.

No Lion Could Top Looney For Craziness

In Joe Don Looney, Lions on August 8, 2008 at 6:39 pm

(with NFL training camps in full swing, and the Lions celebrating their 75th anniversary, OOB will profile various Lions coaches and players throughout history every Friday between now and the regular season opener)

If there was ever a football player — or a person, period — whose surname fit its owner, it was Joe Don Looney.

Looney was a remarkable talent — a big, tough running back from the University of Oklahoma. He was thought of so highly that he was drafted in the first round by the New York Giants in 1964, who were just months removed from appearing in the NFL Championship game against Chicago.

There was no questioning Looney’s skill. There was, however, plenty of room to do so when it came to his sanity. At Oklahoma, in fact, coach Bud Wilkinson kicked Looney off the team for punching a graduate assistant coach. Still, the Giants snatched Looney off the board with the 12th overall pick in ’64.


Looney as a Sooner


Looney proved himself to be incorrigible with the Giants, who got rid of him less than a month after drafting him. He was traded to the Colts before the ’64 season. He lasted long enough to carry the ball just 23 times for Baltimore. Coach Don Shula, who had ties to the Lions from his days as a Detroit assistant in the early-1960s, somehow convinced the Lions to take Looney off his hands in time for the 1965 season.

Looney lasted longer with the Lions than any pro team he played for. In fact, he had some decent numbers in Detroit in ’65, rushing for 356 yards. But eventually Looney’s lunacy reared its head in the Motor City.

Perhaps the most famous incident was one that would seem to be apocryphal, except that it actually happened. Coach Harry Gilmer asked Looney to send in a play during a game, to which the RB replied, “Coach, if you want a messenger, send for Western Union.”

On another occasion, veteran LB Joe Schmidt was once dispatched to Looney’s room during training camp, to convince him to show up for practice. Looney had decided that he wasn’t in the mood, apparently.

Schmidt entered Looney’s room to find the enigmatic running back relaxing, strumming a guitar. Fighting the urge to throttle Looney, Schmidt calmly sat down and tried to explain why it was important that Looney attend practice. Schmidt had a plan: he decided to regale Looney with Schmidt’s near-perfect attendance record when it came to practice.

“Joe, I haven’t missed a practice in 12 years,” Schmidt told Looney.

Looney looked at Schmidt, put his guitar down, leaned in and said, “Well then, I’d say you’re due for a day off, Joe!”

So much for that.

When Looney cared to be, he was a serviceable running back who could block and catch the ball out of the backfield. He just didn’t always care to be; in fact, he rarely did. He didn’t particularly like football, for starters. He would tell folks that he found it unnecessarily violent and, for lack of a better word, useless.

So it wasnt surprising that, after he “retired” from football after a stint with the Saints in 1969, Looney moved himself to India and began working with elephants — training them and, to others’ curiosity and fear, befriending them. Looney said he liked elephants more than people. Eventually, Looney converted to Hinduism and joined the Siddha Yoga movement led by Swami Muktananda. A fellow convert once alleged that Looney was one of Muktananda’s “enforcers” who intimidated people into obeying him.

Looney, though, was maybe destined to die a violent death — ironic because of his dislike for the violence of pro football. In September 1988, at the age of 45, Joe Don Looney died when his motorcycle veered off a road and crashed into a fence, in Texas.

There have been quite a few characters who’ve worn the Honolulu Blue and Silver, but it’s doubtful that any were “loonier” than Joe Don Looney.

(some facts were taken from Looney’s bio at Wikipedia, which you can read HERE)

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