Pop quiz, hotshot: As a Lions’ fan, which dishonor is more frustrating: no Super Bowl appearances or 0-22 in Wisconsin since 1992?
The Green Bay Packers have inflicted a tremendous amount of pain on the Detroit Lions’ franchise, and more acutely, on the fan base. Lions’ players and coaches come and go, but one thing remains constant, the team just can’t win in Green Bay. While former players and coaches move on, we as fans have to live with that humiliating fact each and every year.
Consider that Jason Hanson, who was with the Lions for parts of three decades, never tasted victory in Wisconsin.
The Lions used to have success on the road against Green Bay. In the 1980’s, Detroit won six of the 10 games played in either Milwaukee or Green Bay. They were also victorious in 1990 and 1991.
The Lions have lost in all sorts of ways during their 21-year Wisconsin losing streak (the Packers abandoned games in Milwaukee after the 1994 season). In the early part of the streak they were often blown out, sometimes mounting a failed comeback, other times just waving the symbolic white flag. Other years they played well, and held a lead before the Lambeau Field demons made their presence known.
There was the 1994 playoff loss up there, 2004 when Detroit got off to a 13-0 lead, only to lose 16-13, and then, in 2005, to lose by the same score, this time in overtime. It was so fitting that in 2008, the Lions had to win in Green Bay to both end their long road losing streak against the Packers and avoid the first 0-16 season in NFL history. They did neither.
In the final week of 2011, the Lions had already clinched a playoff spot and faced Green Bay, who was resting Aaron Rodgers, and other starters, after clinching the division and home field advantage in the NFC playoffs. This appeared to be a game the Lions could actually win, end the streak, and give them some confidence heading into their first playoff game since the 1999 season. Despite getting out to a 9-0 lead, the defense allowed back-up Matt Flynn to go crazy. Matthew Stafford and the offense did their best, but could not overcome a touchdown with a little over a minute left to give the Packers a 45-41 victory.
That is not to say that the Lions haven’t had their share of problems at home. Overall the Lions are 10-34 (including postseason) against the Packers since 1992. At home, they are 10-12, but that mark is a little deceiving. Once upon a time, Detroit beat Green Bay frequently at home. In the Silverdome, they went 7-4 from 1992 to 2001. In Ford Field, from 2002 to the present, they’ve gone 3-8.
The Lions are among just four franchises (Cleveland, Houston, Jacksonville) to never appear in a Super Bowl. As humiliating as that distinction is, I often find the inability to win in Green Bay as even more humiliating. After all, even the Browns can occasionally go into Pittsburgh and knock of their bitter rival.
Certainly I would rather see them get to the Super Bowl and win it over a Green Bay victory, however it appears unlikely one will ever happen without the other happening first. For the Lions to ever to emerge as a legitimate Super Bowl contender, they have to beat the Packers in Green Bay–a season sweep for the first time since 1991 would also be nice.
Most of the national pundits have written off the Lions for this coming season. Fans have higher expectations and hopes of a return to the playoffs, but can we honestly expect a playoff push without a win or wins against the Packers? One win could push them to a wild-card. Two wins could give them a divisional title and home playoff game.
To see if the Lions are for real, we’ll have to see how they do Oct. 6 in Green Bay and on Thanksgiving in Detroit.