“So it’s been chasing the Lions for 45 years now, off and on — this dark cloud of death and paralysis.”


Corey Smith is, likely and sadly, dead. Only the strongest believers in miracles would think otherwise.

Smith, the Lions’ free agent defensive lineman, looks to be added to the list of team tragedies. As you know, he’s one of three men missing at sea off the Gulf Coast, following a fishing boat capsizing that occurred on Saturday.

Smith is likely dead, and now it’s another time to recall the dark moments in Lions history — but this time the real life dark moments, not the ones played out on the football field on Sundays.

Chuck Hughes. Dropped dead of a heart attack, on the field, in 1971. Still the only on-field death in the 80+ year history of the NFL.

Head coach Don McCafferty. Another heart attack victim. Died during training camp in 1974 after mowing his lawn.

Mike Utley. Paralyzed from the chest down due to an in-game injury in 1991.

Eric Andolsek. Killed by an out-of-control driver while doing yard work, of all things, in front of his home in the spring of 1992.

Assistant coach and brother of head coach Wayne Fontes, Lenny Fontes. Died of a sudden heart attack in 1992, not long after Andolsek.

Reggie Brown. Nearly became the second on-field death in 1997 after a violent collision at the Silverdome. He lived, but his career ended.

Now Smith, who ironically became a free agent on Friday, a day before he went missing at sea.

Smith: The fourth Lions player to die, while still active, since 1964
Smith: The fourth Lions player to die, while still active, since 1964

It may not be that the Lions are cursed with these sorts of things more than any other NFL team. In case you haven’t noticed, NFL players are being felled at a rather alarming rate, all over the league. But we certainly haven’t avoided this kind of stuff in Detroit, that’s for sure.

The Lions issued a statement after the U.S. Coast Guard announced it was “suspending” its search for Smith and the others. The team didn’t disagree with the decision, considering the circumstances, and added that the whole incident served to remind us all just how fragile life is.

I like to think that it shouldn’t take this kind of a tragedy to serve that reminder, but I suppose this isn’t the time to quibble.

I just hope that Smith’s loss, and that of Oakland Raiders LB Marquis Cooper and former college player Will Bleakley, won’t be minimized simply because the two NFL players toiled for bad teams and Bleakley wasn’t an NFLer at all. We tend to do that, you know — plot the “tragedy factor” of a player’s loss based on his star value within the league. Or based on the star power of the team that employed him.

I probably shouldn’t forget a young Lions lineman from the early-1960s named Lucien Reeberg, who died at age 21 in January 1964 from chronic kidney disease.

So it’s been chasing the Lions for 45 years now, off and on — this dark cloud of death and paralysis.

Kind of makes this “Bobby Layne Curse” and the failures of the Ford ownership look like small, meaningless potatoes, eh?

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