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Who Is To Blame For The Detroit Lions Mess?

by Ryan Hudson

That's the question that will be answered here at RCS in a special three-part series from Carlos Monarrez, a staff writer and editor for the Detroit Free Press since 1999 who's in his third season covering the Lions.

In today's entry, Toothless Lions: Blame Edwin J. Anderson, Monarrez argues that the current situation the Lions find themselves in is not the fault of Matt Millen, Rod Marinelli or even William Clay Ford. Instead, "...the whole debacle that is the Detroit Lions football team can be squarely placed on the shoulders of Edwin J. Anderson," the man who sold the club to the Fords.

When Anderson unloaded the team, the syndicate sold the Lions outright to a 38-year-old Ford for $4.5 million on Jan. 10, 1964.

And things have never been the same.

In the 15 seasons the syndicate owned the Lions from 1949-63, the team flourished by capturing three world championships and had only five losing seasons. In the 45 seasons since the Boy Blunder from the Blue Oval took over, the Lions have won one playoff game and have reached the nadir of their existence. The team, 0-11 this season, is currently mired in a franchise-worst 1-19 streak and has lost 92 of its past 123 games.

Monarrez goes on to point out that even when the Lions found a glimmer of success, luck has never been on their side.
“We had the personnel to win several times but things just didn’t break our way,” linebacker Wayne Walker, who played 200 games for the Lions between 1958-72, said recently. “We were probably the second-best team in the league for 12 years and got caught between the Packers and the Vikings." ...

It was the Thanksgiving Day game against Fred Biletnikoff and the Raiders on Nov. 26, 1970. The Lions had the talent that year, with players like [Charlie] Sanders, Karras, Walker, Lem Barney, Dick LeBeau, Ed Flanagan and Mel Farr. Sanders caught two touchdown passes and the Lions rallied to beat Oakland, 28-14.

It felt like the start of something big. The Lions ended the season on a five-game winning streak and finished second to Minnesota in the NFC Central at 10-4. They reached the playoffs for the first time since 1957. And then they lost to Dallas, 5-0.

“That really was a stepping stone for the organization,” Sanders said wistfully of the Thanksgiving Day game. “Unfortunately, we didn’t build on that.”

It had taken the Lions 13 years to get back to the playoffs and they would not return for another 12.

Part II of the three-part series, "Barry and the Mini-Glory Years," runs tomorrow.