After a dismal 3-6 record on Oct. 13 prior to last week's win against the Cleveland Browns, the Detroit Lions are back in the saddle with a 5-4-1 record on Oct. 20. Yeah, the record isn't that solid, but over-.500 winning percentages for these articles have been few and far between.
For their first two games 20 days into October, the Lions traveled to City Stadium to face the Green Bay Packers. In 1935, Detroit lost in its first away game against Green Bay by a score of 13-9. The Packers outscored the Lions 13-6 in the second half via a blocked punt that was returned for a touchdown and 2 field goals (after missing 2 from under 20 yards in the first half). But Detroit returned the favor five years later on Oct. 20 by defeating the Packers 23-14 behind an NFL-record 7 interceptions and 2 fumble recoveries. Even with the turnover margin in Detroit's favor, the win wasn't easy, as the Packers led 14-7 early in the third quarter. But the Lions responded with 16 unanswered points to end the game and secure the victory.
After losing 35-14 to the Los Angeles Rams and ex-Michigan legend Tom Harmon in 1946 (a game that saw the Lions gain a pitiful 111 yards of total offense to the Rams' 434), Detroit hosted the Baltimore Colts for two straight games on Oct. 20. The teams split the pair of matches, with the Lions winning 31-27 in 1957 and the Colts taking the "W" in 1963, 25-21. In '57, the Colts entered Detroit undefeated at 3-0, while the Lions sat at 2-1, nine games away from winning their fourth NFL championship. Leading 27-3 in the third quarter, Baltimore seemed ready to cruise to another victory, but Howard "Hopalong" Cassady -- Detroit's running back -- had different plans. The 1955 Heisman Trophy winner led the Lions as they scored 4 touchdowns in the final two quarters to steal the victory. He scored the first of 3 TDs in the fourth quarter, set up the second with a catch at Baltimore's 1-yard line and capped the game with a 39-yard touchdown catch from Bobby Layne with 50 seconds remaining.
Six years later, the Colts reversed the roles of the '57 game, as they came back from a 21-0 halftime deficit to win on an interception return for a touchdown. Baltimore's star of the game was former Lions kicker (and lineman and linebacker) Jim Martin, who won three NFL championships with Detroit in the '50s. His 4 field goals coupled with 0 points for the Lions in the second half led to the Colts victory.
Half a decade later, the Lions failed to win again on Oct. 20, as they battled the Packers to a 14-14 tie. Detroit jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, but failed to put up any more points while surrendering 2 unanswered touchdowns to Green Bay to end the game.
For the next four decades, the Lions played only one game on Oct. 20 in each 10-year span. In 1974, Detroit handed the Minnesota Vikings their first loss of the season behind 276 passing yards from quarterback Bill Munson and 2 rushing touchdowns by back Altie Taylor. Lem Barney punctuated the victory by intercepting Fran Tarkenton's final pass in Detroit's end zone with 3 seconds remaining.
Following the '70s, the Lions played two games in a row against the San Francisco 49ers, winning at home in 1985 and losing on the road in 1991. The '85 game saw the Lions avenge back-to-back last-second losses against the 49ers in the previous two seasons. Detroit shocked the defending Super Bowl champs thanks to 116 yards and 1 touchdown on 30 carries by fullback James Jones. Eddie Murray added 3 field goals and the Lions squashed a late fourth quarter push by the 49ers to win 23-21.
But San Francisco returned the favor by blowing out Detroit six years later during the Lions' dominant '91 campaign. The Joe Montana-less 49ers (due to an elbow injury before the season started) cruised to a 35-3 victory behind the up-and-coming Steve Young. Young finished the game 18 for 20 for 237 yards and 2 touchdowns, while Barry Sanders rushed for a miniscule 26 yards on 7 carries. After the loss, head coach Wayne Fontes had this to say:
"We came 3,000 miles to play a very poor game. We're not the same old Lions. We're not going to fold our tents. It's just a loss. Just like the Washington game [a 45-0 blowout in the season-opener], except that we're a better team now than when we played Washington."
The final game on the list takes us back to the ugly 2002 season, when the Lions won only three games all year. Luckily, one of those happened on Oct. 20 against the Chicago Bears. I'll let the Chicago Tribune introduce the game:
"The 'cowardly' Lions beat the straw Bears on Sunday in a football game so overflowing with stupidity it looked like something from the Land of Oz."
Coming into the game, Matt Millen made his idiotic comment on Mike Ditka's radio show about an unidentified Lion being "a devout coward." The team must have used the remark as fuel to jump out to a 14-3 lead in the second quarter. However, the Bears battled back to outscore the Lions 17-3 before the start of the fourth quarter. Now trailing 20-17, Joey Harrington and the Lions offense walked on to the field at Detroit's 22-yard line with 2:21 remaining in the game, looking for his first comeback in the NFL after making a habit out of it in college.
11 plays later -- which included a negated Bears sack thanks to a Lions false start and a Harrington pass to Scotty Anderson ruled a catch and fumble instead of incomplete after being reviewed -- Joey had led Detroit's offense into Chicago territory to set up a 24-yard field goal attempt. Jason Hanson booted the pigskin through the uprights to send the game into overtime. In OT, the Lions started with the ball, and after eight offensive plays, Hanson kicked the game-winning 48-yard field goal. The victory rose Detroit's record to 2-4 on the season, matching their 2001 win total. For the game, Harrington wasn't the only star, as running back James Stewart finished with a career-high 172 yards and 2 touchdowns on 32 carries.
From all of this, it can be seen that Oct. 20 has been an up, down and all around day for the Lions throughout history. Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals will be the Lions' first against an AFC team on the date, so it seems as good of a time as ever for Detroit to find some solid footing and win their second game in a row on Oct. 20.
Overall record on Oct. 20
'35 at Green Bay Packers, 9-13
'40 at Green Bay Packers, 23-14
'46 at Los Angeles Rams, 14-35
'57 vs. Baltimore Colts, 31-27
'63 vs. Baltimore Colts, 21-25
'68 vs. Green Bay Packers, 14-14
'74 at Minnesota Vikings, 20-16
'85 vs. San Francisco 49ers, 23-21
'91 at San Francisco 49ers, 3-35
'02 vs. Chicago Bears, 23-20 (OT)