Detroit Lions Will Fight Their Historical Demons On Road Against Arizona Cardinals


The last time the Detroit Lions won a game in the state of Arizona, Bill Clinton was president, and the home team wasn’t even referred to as the Arizona Cardinals, but the Phoenix Cardinals.

Erik Kramer was the quarterback and threw three touchdowns, all to different targets. Herman Moore’s name is familiar to most, but Rodney Holman and Willie Green? Each mere footnotes in Lions’ history. That day, though, both had decisive scores as the Lions upended the Cardinals 21-14 in 1993.

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Detroit has certainly had their chances to make a statement in the valley of the sun since, but there’s been nothing but a mirage of disappearing glory in the desert. That’s not even using a clever pun for pun’s sake, it’s actually putting things quite literally.

Take November 14, 1999’s encounter. The 6-2 Lions played down to the 2-6 Cardinals, falling behind 23-7 despite scoring the opening touchdown of the game. Gus Freotte tried to lead a comeback and Terry Fair thrilled fans with an exciting fumble return, but Detroit muffed a pair of two-point conversions, helping in a 23-19 defeat. The Lions would finish 8-8.

2001 was a similar story. The 0-9 Lions had little to play for, but managed to lead most of the day. When Jason Hanson hit a 49 yard field goal near the end of the third quarter, Detroit was up 31-21. Two touchdowns and an interception return later, the Lions had dug themselves a 42-31 hole. By the time the dust settled, Detroit owned an 0-10 record with a 45-38 loss.

The very next season, the struggling Lions again held a lead in the second half at 20-14, but wilted down the stretch, allowing three consecutive Bill Gramatica field goals to beat them in overtime 23-20.

2006? a 17-10 loss. 2007? The seemingly exciting 6-2 Lions hit the skids 31-21. 2012? A 38-10 waxing paved the way to a 4-12 finish. Last season? A 25-21 defeat despite a late lead.

By now, you get the point. Historically, the Lions simply don’t win in the desert, and often have victory pulled away there in humiliating, frustrating fashion. Detroit teams with high hopes often use an Arizona loss as a kick-start to worse things, and rarely overcome the year-by-year meltdowns there that have begun to stack on top of each other like rancid pancakes.

That makes 2014’s encounter all the bigger. Arguably, considering the stakes, it’s Detroit’s most important regular season football game in several decades.

Historically, the Lions simply don’t win in the desert, an often have victory pulled away there in humiliating, frustrating fashion.

Monday afternoon, Jim Caldwell was smart not to take the bait of discussing the playoffs or anything else, even as his Lions hit a high water mark of 7-2. “We don’t have it,” Caldwell said when asked about a semblance of playoff fever developing. “We’re wearing a white mask around here.”

“We’ve got the team with the best record in the NFL coming up, we better focus on them.”

Those Cardinals will be without Carson Palmer, their main quarterback, and instead send out Drew Stanton. Arizona’s defense is ferocious, and even though Stanton was the once-marginal backup in Detroit, their offense has cobbled together nice performances with Stanton playing confident at the helm.

But, even with as good as he has been, can Arizona expect the underrated Stanton to go toe-to-toe with the top defense in football and come out ahead? That’s a tall order, and is likely the entire story of the game late Sunday afternoon.

However, as long as the Lions are on the road in Arizona, history shows stranger things can and do tend to happen.

For Detroit, this isn’t an elongated losing streak in a boisterous Metrodome or a run of losses against some behemoth teams at Lambeau Field in Green Bay. Arguably, it’s much worse and tougher to overcome.

Why? The Lions don’t just have to defeat the solid Cardinals to reach 8-2, but a decade of painful mirages that have claimed some of their similarly confident squads.