Before the Detroit Lions were founded, the NFL tried to establish an American football team in the city of Detroit multiple times, but only with little success: The Detroit Heralds and the Detroit Tigers only played for one season in 1920 and 1921. The Detroit Panthers were also dissolved in 1926 after playing only two seasons. In 1934 the city finally got a new team: Radio manager George A. Richards bought the Portsmouth Spartans and renamed them to Detroit Lions.
At the time of the purchase, the Portsmouth Spartans were one of the most successful teams in the NFL although they have only been founded in 1930. In 1931 they already reached the second place in the NFL and in 1932 they even played in the first – then still unofficial – NFL championship game. One year later, the league was divided into two divisions and the championship game was introduced as an official final. The Detroit Lions are also responsible for a second innovation that survived to this day: Although NFL games were usually played on Sundays; the Detroit Lions were the first team in 1934 that scheduled a home game on Thanksgiving Day. The game was a great success and the idea was also adopted by the Dallas Cowboys later on. Today, you can watch a Detroit Lions game on Thanksgiving Day every season.
In contrast to the early teams from Detroit, the Detroit Lions had some of the best players of that time, especially Earl “Dutch” Clark, who played as a quarterback, running back, kicker and punter and led the Lions to their first NFL championship. Led by legendary players like quarterback Bobby Lane, running back Doak Walker or safety Jack Christiansen, the Detroit Lions became a regular contender of the Cleveland Browns and were able to win three NFL and four NFC North division titles in the 1950s.
Since then, the Lions never reached these heights of success again, although extraordinary players like defensive back Yale Lary, linebacker Joe Schmidt or cornerback Lem Barney played for the team. Prior to the 1990s, the Lions only reached the play-offs three times and it wasn’t before 1991 that they won the first play-off game again. At that time, the team was mainly coined by running back Barry Sanders who was the third player ever to have a 2000 yard season in 1997. It was very surprising that Sanders ended his career in 1998 and the Lions didn’t really recover from this shock. They only played at the lower end of the league and finally reached their low point in 2008: The Detroit Lions were the first team to end an NFL season of 16 games without a single win.