What started off as a stretch of unparalleled excitement and optimism slowly turned into one of the biggest letdowns in Detroit Lions history.
Coming off a 2-14 record one year earlier, it’s understandable why the Detroit Lions got a little bit ahead of themselves. Led by rookie sensation Billy Sims, the Heisman Trophy winner and number one overall pick in the draft, Detroit was the surprise team of the NFL to start 1980.
Before the month of September had ended, the Lions had already doubled their win total from ’79, graced a Sports Illustrated cover for the first time in a decade, and sampled Queen to make their own now-infamous rap single.
The slow and steady fall over the final three months was a cruel but ultimately fitting price to pay for their early season hubris.
1980 NFC Central Standings
Minnesota Vikings 9-7-0
Detroit Lions 9-7-0
Chicago Bears 7-9-0
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 5-10-1
Green Bay Packers 5-10-1
Story of the Season
In his professional debut, Sims had 217 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns to lead a 41-20 opening day win over the Los Angeles Rams, fresh off a Super Bowl appearance. Essentially a Barry Sanders prototype, Sims finished his rookie year with 1,303 rushing yards and led the league with 16 touchdowns.
A 29-7 pasting of the Green Bay Packers was then followed by dominant 20-7 and 27-7 wins at home over the Cardinals and Vikings. Through the first month, the Lions were 4-0 and had yet to allow a single point after halftime, outscoring opponents 69-0 in the second half. And the Lions’ remix of”Another One Bites the Dust” was blowing up the airwaves in metro Detroit.
The whirlwind four weeks launched a wave of optimism around Detroit, though questions loomed of whether the team could keep up their blistering pace. After all, Same Old Lions was a common trope in the Detroit media, even 40 years ago.
Over the next two months, the Honolulu Blue remained competitive, but as the September magic cooled off and the losses piled up, they found themselves right back in the thick of the NFC Central race. By Thanksgiving, Detroit was still alone in first place, but with a pedestrian 7-5 record. Talks of a Super Bowl run eroded into more modest division championship hopes, and soon became wishful thinking that they could sneak into the playoffs any way possible.