On the turf of Ford Field this Sunday afternoon, two of the oldest teams in NFL history will square off in a game with unknown importance for the Detroit Lions. Sean's pointed out the different scenarios, but no matter what, the Lions have to win to keep their playoff hopes alive. Unfortunately, the Lions have lost four straight home games (and five of the last six) against the New York Giants, as their last win came back in '83. However, Detroit still holds the overall lead in the series at 21-19-1 (13-8-1 at home) and has performed well on the road in recent years with three wins in a row from 1994-04.
The series started back in 1930 when the Portsmouth Spartans joined the NFL in their second year of existence. New York traveled to the small Ohio city to take the first meeting, 19-6. Following the loss, Portsmouth responded with a 4-2 record against the Giants before moving to the Motor City in '34. A year later, the teams squared off in the NFL Championship Game, which the Lions won 26-7 to take home their first title. After the biggest game between the teams, the series turned into a cycle of winning streaks: three in a row for the Lions from '36 to '39, three more for Detroit from '47 to '53, three for New York from '55 to '62, five for the Lions from '64 to '74 and six of seven for the Giants from '76 to '90. The most recent wins for the Lions ('00 and '04) are sandwiched by two-game winning streaks for New York, one of which they'll carry into Sunday's game.
As for myself, I don't have many strong memories of the Lions-Giants series, except for the soul-crushing loss in 2007, which I witnessed firsthand. Just the other day I referenced '07 as the year I feel that I became a true Lions fan. After feeling on top of the world with a 6-2 start and seeing the postseason on the horizon, a 1-7 finish knocked me down and made me learn to temper my expectations. It was the first time I felt something special for a Lions team (I was too young to understand any of the '90s success), and the crushed hopes initiated me fully into Lions fandom.
So since it's easy and obvious, I'll take a deeper look back at the '35 NFL Championship Game below.
Dec. 15, 1935, NFL Championship Game - Detroit Lions 26, New York Giants 7
Thanks to a victory in the last game of the year against the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Lions headed to the title game to face the reigning champions, the New York Giants. For the G-Men, it was their third trip to the championship game in as many seasons, with a loss in '33 and a win in '34, both against the Chicago Bears. Detroit, however, didn't perform as well in '35 (7-3-2) as it did in '34 (10-3), and if ties were counted like they are today, they wouldn't have made the championship game over the Green Bay Packers (8-4), whom Detroit lost to twice that year. But ties didn't factor into winning percentage in '35, so the Lions edged out their rivals to play in the big dance.
Heading into opening kickoff, betting odds favored Detroit by a small margin even though the Giants owned the more proven track record. However, it didn't take long after the start of the game for the Lions to put any debate over their strength to rest. By the end of the first quarter, Detroit held a 13-0 lead that they wouldn't relinquish. Fullback LeRoy "Ace" Gutowsky started the scoring by capping a 61-yard opening drive with a 5-yard touchdown run. Following Ace's example, back Earl "Dutch" Clark broke off a 40-yard run for Detroit's second touchdown of the day.
After the early scores, the Giants battled back to hold the Lions scoreless through the next two quarters while scoring 7 points of their own in the third. With the gap narrowed at 13-7, Detroit put the game away in the fourth following a blocked New York kick and an interception, both turned into touchdowns to give the Lions a 26-7 victory.
In a game filled with a rain and snow mixture that's commonplace for southeast Michigan in December, the Lions dominated the Giants through a stout rushing attack that gained 235 yards to the visitor's 106. The NFL championship cemented the Lions' spot in the "City of Champions" era that started with a Detroit Tigers World Series title two months prior. Four months later, in April of '36, the Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup to make Detroit the only city in history to win three of the four major sports titles in the same season. That era could have only been made better if the Michigan Wolverines had taken home a national championship for 1935 since the Detroit Pistons, as well as the NBA, didn't exist yet.
Since the Tigers already blew it this year and the Wings are hampered by injuries, there won't be a new edition of the "City of Champions" anytime soon. Even so, it would have been nice to have a semi-competent Lions team run away with the division and earn a home playoff game. Instead, Detroit has its back against the wall and needs Matthew Stafford to step up in his first career game against the Giants.