With the Detroit Lions holding a 7-4 record on Nov. 17, Sunday can easily be crowned the best game day of the year thus far. It all started back in 1935, when the Lions avenged a loss to the Green Bay Packers in the previous week. Earl "Dutch" Clark came off the bench in the second quarter to help rally the Lions twice from behind in a 20-10 victory. The win aided Detroit's 1935 NFL championship campaign. Five years later, the Lions traveled to face the hapless Philadelphia Eagles, owners of a 0-8 record. Detroit pummeled Philly on the ground as Byron "Whizzer" White and Lloyd Cardwell combined for 3 touchdowns in a 21-0 romp.
The two-game winning streak on Nov. 17 ended six years later in 1946 when the Lions fell to the Packers at home. Both teams failed to do much offensively, but Green Bay ended up doing enough to sneak by with a 9-0 win. After the second game against the Pack, 11 years passed before the Lions played the San Francisco 49ers on Nov. 17, 1957. In the year of Detroit's final NFL championship, Bobby Layne showed why he was considered one of the best in the game at the time with a strong performance against the 49ers. Layne helped the Lions race to a 21-10 halftime lead by going 17 for 24 for 250 yards with 1 touchdown in the first two quarters. Detroit added 10 more points in the second half while shutting down the 49ers offense to win 31-10. In the playoffs that year, the Lions beat the 49ers again to play in the NFL Championship Game, which Detroit won over the Cleveland Browns.
Following the success of '57, the Lions took a step back on Nov. 17 during the 1960s by losing both games: 28-21 to the Los Angeles Rams in '63 and 13-6 to the Minnesota Vikings in '68. However, the losses sparked a four-game winning streak for Detroit on Sunday's date, starting with a close victory in 1974 against the New York Giants. Down 19-17, the Lions started from their own 20-yard line with 1:58 remaining. Behind some key receptions by Charlie Sanders, Detroit drove into Giants territory to set up a 37-yard field goal with 2 seconds remaining. Errol Mann nailed the kick and the Lions edged New York for the victory.
11 years later, Detroit returned the favor to the Vikings on Nov. 17 by cruising to a 41-21 victory. Turning 3 turnovers on Minnesota's first 4 possessions into touchdowns, the Lions raced out to a 31-7 halftime lead, and the Vikings couldn't recover. Eric Hipple led the way for Detroit on offense, finishing the day 14 for 20 for 193 yards with 3 touchdowns. Entering the 1990s, the Lions' winning ways on Nov. 17 continued for two more games, as Detroit beat the Rams in '91 and the Seattle Seahawks in '96.
For those of you who weren't around in '91 for the Rams game, Lions right guard Mike Utley suffered a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the chest down. As the medics stretchered him off the field, Utley flashed a thumbs up sign, which became a symbol for Mike's recovery at the time, and later, his foundation. Today, Utley has regained mobility in his upper extremities and has walked with ankle braces, which is amazing considering the extent of his injury. As for the game, Erik Kramer led the Lions to victory on 185 yards passing with 3 touchdowns and no interceptions. Detroit needed the strong performance by Kramer since the Rams defense held Barry Sanders to 57 yards on 26 carries.
Coming into the '96 game against Seattle, the Lions desperately needed a win after losing four in a row. In an ugly, back-and-forth game, Barry Sanders did most of the work for Detroit's offense, rushing for 134 yards and 1 touchdown on 16 carries. Jason Hanson put the Lions in the lead, 17-16, in the fourth quarter, but the Seahawks made one last push to end the contest. Luckily for Detroit, a 42-yard field goal attempt as time expired faded right, and the Lions escaped with a victory.
The final game on the list -- a loss in 2002 against the New York Jets -- isn't worth talking about, and all in all, the Lions have performed well on Nov. 17 throughout history. Compared to some of the previous weeks, this one looks magnificent. Hopefully this translates into many positives and a win for the Lions on Sunday.
Overall record on Nov. 17
'35 vs. Green Bay Packers, 20-10
'40 at Philadelphia Eagles, 21-0
'46 vs. Green Bay Packers, 0-9
'57 vs. San Francisco 49ers, 31-10
'63 vs. Los Angeles Rams, 21-28
'68 vs. Minnesota Vikings, 6-13
'74 vs. New York Giants, 20-19
'85 vs. Minnesota Vikings, 41-21
'91 vs. Los Angeles Rams, 21-10
'96 vs. Seattle Seahawks, 17-16
'02 vs. New York Jets, 14-31