Sports fans have always been a superstitious bunch. Whether it’s lucky clothes, routines, or spots on the couch, fans have always come up with odd reasons for their teams’ successes or failures. Yet in recent years due to some good general managing in baseball, some supposedly infamous curses-specifically the curses of the bambino and billy goat have been exposed as just silly stories. Yet in the NFL there’s one curse that not only proved true, it’s actually outlived its expiration date. It applies to the sad-sack Detroit Lions, and it’s called the curse of Bobby Layne.
In the era before the Super Bowl, Bobby Layne was a successful quarterback for the Detroit Lions, leading the team to three league championships. After his last title in 1957, the team decided to trade Layne to Pittsburgh. According to legend, a bitter Layne vowed that the Lions wouldn’t win “for 50 years”. But just a few years later in 1962, the Lions were humming along undefeated heading into a big game against Vince Lombardi’s Packers. In a game that would later be immortalized in Lombardi’s Classic “Run to Daylight”, the Lions had the lead and the ball with very little time left and were facing third down. The team decided to go for the win with a pass, and the move backfired horribly when the pass was picked off and returned to set up a walk-off chip-shot field goal. The Lions then sunk into a long period of mediocrity, but mercifully so did the Pack after Lombardi’s passing. It wasn’t until the early ’90s that both teams became contenders again and history would repeat itself.
In 1991, the team won the division and a playoff game before being blown out by the Redskins in the NFC title game. In 1993 Detroit won the division again and hosted the Pack in the Silverdome. The team seemingly had the game won before future Hall of Famer Brett Favre, in a harbinger of things to come, stole the game with a 40-yard bomb to a shockingly wide open Sterling Sharpe. The Lions earned a rematch at Lambeau in ’94, but Barry Sanders was held to a stunning negative rushing total before taking a seemingly dispirited early retirement, a fate later followed by sterling wide receiver Calvin Johnson.
While Layne’s curse expired in 2007, the team’s struggles didn’t. In 2008 the Detroit Lions earned the unique humiliation of going 0-16, with the final loss coming at the hands of a rather mean-spirited Lambeau crowd cheering on a Packer team that was concluding a rare down year. But with the arrival of Matthew Stafford and a much improved passing game, the team became contenders again. In 2014 Detroit could have won the division and a bye with a week 17 game against the Pack, led by a hamstring-hampered Aaron Rodgers. But the soon-to-be MVP refused to use his injury as an excuse and dissected the Lions defense in a comfortable win, leaving the Lions to another one-and-done wild card appearance. But this year the window of opportunity to win Detroit’s first division title since ’93, and first playoff game since ’91, seemed wide open. The Pack’s post-Seattle playoff game struggles continued into its second year, and the Lions entered the home stretch at 9-4. But Rodgers’ seemingly preposterous boast that the Pack could “win out” proved true heading into Sunday’s matchup at Ford Field against a suddenly backsliding Lions team. The winner would get a first round game against a merely good Giants team, while the loser would have to travel to the extremely unfriendly confines of Century Link Field.
The Detroit Lions were competitive for a while, even taking a seven-point lead late in the first half. But rather predictably, Rodgers led the Pack to a huge turnaround, leading to a convincing title-clinching win. Unless the team miraculously turns things around next Saturday, it will be another long, cold, and dark offseason in Michigan. And somewhere in the next world, Bobby Layne will take another smirk grin of satisfaction.