On Sunday, the Detroit Lions will play the Washington Redskins and reach double digits for games played in team history on the date of Sept. 22. This week becomes the second in a row to focus on a date on which the Lions haven't performed their best. Six of the nine games have been losses, but of the three wins, one was a beautiful 42-0 blowout against the Chicago Bears.
To start off, let's take a look back to 1940, when the Lions welcomed the Pittsburgh Steelers for the first meeting between both teams since Pitt stopped being called the Pirates, started working in the steel mills and left the pillaging and plundering for the baseball version of the Pittsburgh Pirates. (Note: The team also went through a couple of goofy merged names, as the Steagles in 1943 and Card-Pitt in 1944, before permanently adopting the Steelers name.) At the time, Detroit had never lost to Pittsburgh, winning the first four meetings by a combined score of 91-20. But the Steelers stole the game in '40, scoring the game-winning touchdown with less than three minutes remaining.
1948 saw the Lions lose again, but this time it wasn't even close, as the Los Angeles Rams trounced Detroit by a score of 44-7 in the season opener. The game ended up resting in the middle of a 12-game winning streak for the Rams against the Lions (the final 11 coming after the Rams moved from Cleveland to LA). The Rams led 21-0 by halftime, and ended the game by outscoring the Lions 20-0 in the fourth quarter. Losing became a theme for Detroit in '48, as they finished 2-10 on the year.
It would take 15 more years for a game to fall on Sept. 22, and in 1963, the Lions lost again in Milwaukee to the Green Bay Packers by a score of 31-10. The game was never close, and nobody likes remembering a Packers loss, so let's skip the recap.
Half a decade later, the Lions were looking to regain their early 60s successes when they finished second in the Western Conference for three years in a row from 1960 to '63. After a 59-13 drubbing at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys in the season opener, Detroit bounced back by destroying the Bears on the field of Tiger Stadium. Fueled by 10 Bears turnovers (yes, that's correct: 8 interceptions and 2 fumbles), the Lions scored a touchdown in every quarter except the third, when they scored three in a three-minute span to win by a margin of 42-0. Defensive back Mike Weger and safety Lem Barney each snagged 3 picks, and quarterback Bill Munson -- in his regular season debut with the Lions -- tossed 3 touchdown passes.
Unfortunately, the next two Sept. 22 games aren't as fun to read about, with a 7-6 loss at home against the Minnesota Vikings in 1974 and a 14-6 loss on the road against the Indianapolis Colts (the first time the teams met since Indy moved from Baltimore) in 1985. Two losses in which the Lions could only muster two field goals per game shouldn't be talked about.
However, Detroit avenged their loss against the Colts with a win over Indy in 1991. With Barry Sanders leading the offense, the Lions running game couldn't be stopped en route to a 33-24 win. Barry rushed for 179 yards on 30 carries with 2 touchdowns, and Rodney Peete added a 7-yard rushing touchdown of his own. On the other hand, the Colts rushing attack looked pedestrian against the stout Lions defense, running for a franchise-low 4 yards on 14 attempts (and it should be noted that Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson was in the Colts backfield that day).
The next Sept. 22 game came in 1996 against the Bears, and the Lions won handily by a score of 35-16. It's a favorite of mine (even though I was four at the time and have zero memory of the event) because the greatest Lion of all time, Johnnie Morton, had a career day. Before the game, Morton joked that he should "wear Herman Moore's jersey" to trick Scott Mitchell into targeting him. But that wouldn't be necessary, as Mitchell and Morton connected 7 times for 174 yards and 2 touchdowns. It was a career-high in yards for Johnnie and added to Mitchell's 336 yard, 5 touchdown performance (4 passing and 1 rushing).
After '96, there's only one game left to talk about, and it's another loss against the Packers in 2002. Same as before, let's skip talking about that 37-31 loss.
So, with all this history in mind (including the pain of Detroit's record against the Redskins), who says it's time to break a couple trends? I think it's time to end the 21-game road losing streak against Washington and add a fourth win on Sept. 22 in the process.
Overall record on Sept. 22
'40 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, 7-10
'48 at Los Angeles Rams, 7-44
'63 at Green Bay Packers, 10-31
'68 vs. Chicago Bears, 42-0
'74 vs. Minnesota, 6-7
'85 at Indianapolis Colts, 6-14
'91 at Indianapolis Colts, 33-24
'96 vs. Chicago Bears, 35-16
'02 vs. Green Bay Packers, 31-37