Detroit Lions: 30 greatest players in franchise history

Detroit Lions. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Detroit Lions. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /
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Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

Ranking the top 30 greatest players in Detroit Lions history is a tough task, but we’ll give it our best try for fans of the Motor City.

It is a labor of love to research and put together this list of the 30 greatest players to ever don the Honolulu blue and silver of the Detroit Lions. The franchise began its existence in 1930 as the Portsmouth Spartans and after gaining new ownership in 1934, the team was moved from Portsmouth, Ohio to Detroit, Michigan where they were rebranded as the Lions. The big cat moniker for the football team was chosen as a nod to the Detroit Tigers baseball team.

Throughout the 1950s, the Lions were fierce competitors on the field as they won four NFL championships (1935, 1952, 1953, 1957). With their consistent levels of team success in the fifties, the Lions were on par as one of the premier organizations in all of professional football. During the ensuing decades however, the Lions went from being league champions to being widely known as NFL also-rans.

The Lions’ decades long run of futility seemingly began during the 1958 season and it coincided with the trade of their star quarterback, Bobby Layne. The story has it that Layne was so upset with his trade that he allegedly stated that his former team would “not win for 50 years.” The veracity of the quote has been debated for years, but regardless of whether it was actually spoken doesn’t matter.

The “Curse of Bobby Layne” took on a life of its own and it loomed over Detroit like a black cloud that portended franchise doom for the foreseeable future. The listlessness of the Lions lingered with the franchise until it reached its lowest point in 2008 (the 50th year of Layne’s “curse”!), as the team “achieved” the NFL’s first winless season with an 0-16 record.

Despite their lack of team success during the NFL’s modern era, Detroit has had many memorable players to suit up and take the field for them over the years. The Lions are well represented in the Pro Football Hall of Fame with no less than 20 players who were enshrined as a direct result of their on field exploits while playing for the Motor City.

The following players are not all hall of famers, but that fact does not lessen their overall impact on the franchise. Without further ado…