It’s now as synonymous with the Detroit Lions as Honolulu blue or Barry Sanders, but when did the phrase ‘Same Old Lions begin’ and how can they finally put an end to it?
It actually started out as a critique on the old traveling circus. We’re not the only Lions football team that it applies to. There was a time when it was even used as a compliment. It’s evolved over the years to encapsulate everything that’s ever frustrated, disappointed, or confounded us about our Detroit Lions.
In the Twitter age, it’s been condensed into just three letters. Like it or not, the term will endure no matter how successful the team is in upcoming years.
Same Old Lions.
How did it all start, who is to blame, and how can we put a stop to it? The origins of the term are surprising, as is the way it’s come to define the Detroit Lions over many decades.
Nothing new under the canvas
One of the earliest instances of the phrase “Same Old Lions” in newsprint occurred more than 40 years before the original Portsmouth Spartans had played a single down. It had nothing to do with irrationally high preseason expectations, fizzling out after a quick start, or fumbles and penalties at just the wrong moment. Instead, it was used to lament the dwindling thrill of going to see the circus.
The Burlington Republican, based out of a tiny town in eastern Kansas, published a brief editorial (without even a credited author) in a May 1886 paper that observes a growing apathy for circuses as a form of popular entertainment. The article notes that audiences were coming to realize that each new circus offers basically the exact same thing as all the other ones that came before, including the same stunts, tricks, and of course, the same old lions.
That complaint still persisted another 30 years later, when the New Castle News in Pennsylvania turned the sentiment to poetry:
"“…same old lions, same old bears, same old band boys playin’ airs… …same old sights and circus din, but we always take it in.” —New Castle News, May 9, 1917"
But we always take it in. Sound familiar?