How big a deal is it to see the words “Detroit Lions” and “Champion” on the same T-Shirt, as was seen by some truly emotionally charged players in their aftermath of their Christmas Eve conquest of their division rival Minnesota Vikings that officially game them the NFC North title?
Well, it’s the first time the Lions have won a division called the NFC North. The last time the Lions emerged as a division winner, it was the NFC Central, and those denizens of the frigid Tampa Bay area brought up the rear.
The last time the time the Lions were the winners of a post-season game was two seasons before that. In January 1992 the Lions overwhelmed the Dallas Cowboys 38-6 at the Pontiac Silverdome, arguably the second most convincing victory of their entire 90-year existence. But the following week, turnabout was fair play as the eventual champion Washington Redskins buried them 41-10, and ended their dreams of a Super Bowl. They’re still looking for their first trip to the game.
And their most recent NFL title? Try 1957, when the long-forgotten Tobin Rote, a backup who carried Detroit down the stretch after their more successful starter Bobby Layne was lost to injury, catapulted them to arguably their most convincing victory of all time, a 59-14 thrashing of the Cleveland Browns at Briggs Stadium. Right, it wasn’t even being called Tiger Stadium then.
In such a light, the write-up from DETROIT FREE PRESS sportswriter Dave Birkett was practically muted:
MINNEAPOLIS — The Detroit Lions are division champs, and it didn’t take a Christmas eve miracle for it to happen.
The Lions won their first division title since 1993 with a thrilling 30-24 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium. They will be a top-3 seed in the NFC playoffs and host at least one game at Ford Field when the postseason opens in mid-January.
“This is special,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “It’s something you don’t get to do all the time. They’re always special to win a division, I don’t care how many of them you get cause of the work that goes into it. But to do something that hasn’t been done in 30 years for a team is special. And that’s a special group of men back in there that are staying tame at this point.”
“It’s just kind of an overwhelming feeling,” Lions center Frank Ragnow said. “You guys know, the fans know, there’s a lot of hard that goes into this day in and day out that a lot of people don’t see and to come up short for years and years and years in a row, and then to reach this, and this is just the beginning, but just to reach division champs there’s not really words that can describe it.”
Yep, it’s pretty hard to imagine anyone in Michigan (yes, that’s how adults spell it) who’s having a better Christmas than these guys. But now the real fun starts.
The Lions will be looking to improve their lot with a crucial Saturday night showdown in Dallas on national TV against the reeling Cowboys–you know, that team they beat up in 1992? Because should the Lions stumble and indeed get that three seed (incidentally, those old division rivals, Tampa Bay, looked fairly decent moving over .500 to take the lead of the otherwise lamentable NFC South) waiting for them in downtown Detroit could very likely be the Los Angeles Rams and their onetime quarterback Matthew Stafford. And for current QB Jared Goff, who wound up in Honolulu blue and silver as a result of that 2020 trade of disappointing gunslingers despite the fact he had quarterbacked the Rams to their own first Super Bowl as a Los Angeles team in nearly four decades just two years before, a date with destiny of his own.
So sleep well, kitties. For a change, you’ve got a lot to look forward to this winter.