(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.