Detroit Lions

Former Lions Wide Receiver

Former Lions Wide Receiver, Calvin Johnson

(Sharp2905 /

Based in Detroit, Michigan, the Detroit Lions compete in the National Football League (NFL) National Football Conference (NFC) North division. Established in 1930, the team plays all its home fixtures at Ford Field, which is located in downtown Detroit.

The Detroit Lions were originally known as the Portsmouth Spartans and were based in Portland, Ohio and were formed in 1930. Unfortunately, despite some early success, they simply could not survive thanks to the fact Portsmouth was the NFL’s smallest city which resulted in low revenues. The Great Depression also contributed to their demise. The team was purchased by a group of investors led by the owner of WJR radio in Detroit George Richards and in 1934 the team was moved to Detroit and was renamed the Detroit Lions.

The franchise has seen some success over the years, winning four NFL Championships in 1935, 1952, 1953 and 1957. However, the years since have been lean in terms of success and the club have the second longest NFL championship drought behind the Arizona Cardinals. They are also one of the four current NFL teams never to have played in a Super Bowl.

However, there has been more hope in recent years with the Detroit Lions making two playoff appearances in 2011 and 2014.

Fast Facts

  • Full Name: The Detroit Lions
  • Conference: National Football Conference
  • Division: North
  • Location: Detroit
  • Stadium Name: Ford Field Stadium
  • Year Established: 1930
  • Owner: Ford Motor Company
  • Head Coach: Jim Caldwell
  • Manager: Bob Quinn
  • Nickname: Silver Rush
  • Mascot: Roary the Lion and Theo “Gridiron” Spight
  • Team Colours: Honolulu Blue, Silver, Black, White


Inside Detroit's Stadium, Ford Field

Inside Detroit’s Stadium, Ford Field

(Gary Paul Lewis /

The team now known as the Detroit Lions started out life as the Portsmouth Spartans, based in Portsmouth Ohio. Formed in 1929, the team drew its players from semi-pro teams and defunct pro teams in the West Virginia, Kentucky-Ohio tri-state area. The local residents of Portsmouth were fully supportive of the founding of the team and agreed to fund the construction of a new stadium for the team, which was the Universal Stadium that opened in 1930 with a capacity of just 8200.

Despite some early success in the National Football League, the fact that the city of Portsmouth barely had 40,000 people along with the Great Depression led to low revenues and the franchise was bought by George Richards, the owner of a Detroit radio station, which is where he moved the team in 1934 – thus the team being renamed to the Detroit Lions.

Success was soon theirs with Detroit beating the New York Giants in 1935 to win their first ever NFL Championship. Much of the credit is given to quarterback Dutch Clark who was at the top of his game during this period. However, the years following were not so kind and the 1940s in particular were disappointing for the Lions and saw them play the New York Football Giants in the NFL’s last ever scoreless tie in 1943.

The 1950s were the Detroit Lions most successful decade. Led by inspirational quarterback Bobby Layne, the Lions appeared at their first NFL Championship in 17 years and defeated the Cleveland Browns by 17-7 in 1952 and then met them the year later beating them 17-16. In 1954, the teams met again with the Browns beating the Lions 56-10. The Detroit Lions won their fourth championship in 1957 beating the San Francisco 49ers by 31-27, coming back from a 27-7 halftime deficit.

The next few decades proved a testing time for the Detroit Lions and it wasn’t until the 1990s that the team regularly began to start appearing in the playoffs, appearing in 1991, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1997, and 1999. Unfortunately, none of these resulted in a Super Bowl appearance although they have began to recapture more consistent form recently, reaching the playoffs in 2011 and 2014.

Super Bowl Appearances

The Detroit Lions have never made an appearance at a Super Bowl.


Ford Field

Ford Field (Juli Hansen /

The Detroit Lions play at the Ford Field Stadium that is located in Downtown Detroit. The Detroit/Wayne County Stadium Authority owns the multipurpose stadium and prior to this venue, the team played at the Pontiac Silverdome.

The stadium opened in 2002 and cost a total of $566 million to build. The regular seating capacity at the stadium is 65,000, but as a multipurpose facility, this can be expanded to up to 80,000 for basketball. The name is thanks to a naming deal with Detroit-based Ford Motor Company who paid $40 million for the naming rights for a span of 20 years.

As well as the stadium itself, the complex consists of various other businesses, as well as a variety of suites. Unlike many other indoor stadiums, a large amount of natural light is let into the stadium thanks to large skylights and a design optimised for light. The stadium has its end zones in the east and west, which is unusual in the NFL, as the potential sunlight could be a major distraction. Only eight other venues are like this and they had to get special permission to design it this way.

As well as hosting the Detroit Lions games and Super Bowl XV, the Ford Field Stadium has hosted various events including Wrestlemania 23, which saw a record-breaking attendance of 93,173.

Famous Players

Barry Sanders (1989 – 1998)

Barry Sanders isn’t just one of the best players to play for the Detroit Lions, he is one of the best players ever to play in the NFL. Spending his entire career at the Lions, he is a member of both college and football halls of fame and has the honour of being named by NFL Top 10 as the NFL’s most elusive runner ever. Averaging over 1500 rushing yards every season, he is a popular player with Lions and NFL fans the world over.

Joe Schmidt (1953 – 1965)

Not just one of the best ever players to play for the Lions, Joe Schmidt was also a successful coach (by Lions standards). Playing his entire career at the Lions, he was one of the best every defense players the team has ever seen and one that still inspires fond memories in older fans to this day.

Bobby Lyons (1950 – 1958)

Bobby Lyons, the Detroit Lions’ quarterbackm was one of the toughest players ever to play the game, opting not to wear a facemask when more and more players around him were. He may not have the statistics that some of the more famous quarterbacks to play the game have but he was so much more than that, he was a talisman who helped deliver championships to the Lions.

Lem Barney (1967 – 1977)

Following college football at Jackson State, Lem Barney was drafted by the Detroit Lions in 1967. Playing as a cornerback, return specialist and punter for 10 years, he was inducted into the Pro Hall of Fame in 1992. As well as one of the best ever players to play for the Lions, Barney is certainly one of the most popular.

Did You Know?

  • Marvin Gaye nearly left the music industry in the early 1970s and tried to try out for the Detroit Lions. Friends with Lions, Lem Barney and Mel Farr, they helped him train for the try-out. At 6 foot 4, Gaye had the height but not the frame and put on 30 pounds for his try-out. Ultimately, however, he was unsuccessful and was turned away by Joe Schmidt, the Detroit Lions coach.
  • Following his unsuccessful tryout. Detroit Lions fan, Marvin Gaye, recorded his 1971 hit single ‘What’s Going On’ with Mel Farr and Lem Barney on backing vocals.
  • The Detroit Lions have been owned by the Ford family since 1964.
  • The Lions fight song, ‘Gridiron Heroes’ is one of the oldest in the NFL.
  • The Lions are one of only six NFL teams not to have cheerleaders.