Why the 1970 season still haunts the Detroit Lions 50 years later

Detroit Lions. Mandatory Credit: Tom Pidgeon /Allsport
Detroit Lions. Mandatory Credit: Tom Pidgeon /Allsport /
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Former Detroit Lions, Lem Barney and Barry Sanders (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Former Detroit Lions, Lem Barney and Barry Sanders (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

Hall of Fame Lions

Alex Karras– at age 35, ‘The Mad Duck’ played his final season as a Lion, and will finally be inducted into the Hall of Fame later this year.

Dick LeBeau– collected nine of his franchise-record 62 career interceptions during the 1970 season.

Lem Barney– the original #20 in Detroit had seven interceptions (two returned for touchdowns) in 1970.

Charlie Sanders– the original Sanders in Detroit turned in an All-Pro season at tight end.

Joe Schmidt– One of the team’s all-time greats at linebacker, Schmidt coached the team from 1967-72, with 1970 being his most successful season at the helm.

Better known for …

Mel Farr– A Pro Bowl selection at fullback in 1970, he was probably better known for his superhero alter ego “Mel Farr, Superstar” selling used cars in the Detroit area after his playing days were over. My pops used to sing the jingle from the TV commercial when we were kids. “Mel Farr, Superstar, for a ‘Farr’ better deal!”

Steve Owens– He was a little-used rookie in 1970, but Owens set team history the following season, becoming the first Lions player to rush for 1,000 yards in a season (which was a lot tougher to do back then with fewer games, but the recent batch of Lions RBs have shown that it’s still pretty hard to do).

Gone but not forgotten

Chuck Hughes– The 27-year old wide receiver joined the Lions after three years in Philadelphia, starting nine games in the 1970 season. Just a year later, Hughes suffered a heart attack in the middle of a home game against the Chicago Bears and took his final breath in front of 54,000 fans at Tiger Stadium. Hughes remains the only player in NFL history to die on-field during a game. The Chuck Hughes Award is given to the Lions’ most improved player at the end of each season.

Tiger Stadium- Home to the Lions for nearly 35 years, the team moved their home turf away from downtown Detroit after the 1974 season. “The Corner” was still used for baseball for another 25 years, and was eventually demolished in 2009, six years after the Lions came back downtown and moved into Ford Field.

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The Ultra Short Field Goal- 1970 was one of the last few years when the goalposts were placed in the front of the end zone instead of at the back. This allowed for official field goal distances up to ten yards closer than is even possible by today’s rules. In fact, in the same game where he kicked his 63-yard field goal, Tom Dempsey also made one of the shortest field goals of all time, a chip shot from only eight yards out.