One for the road: Detroit Lions vs. Chicago Bears

Gregory Shamus

Take a look back at the history between the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears, as well as one of the best games between the two division rivals.

Back when the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears first met in November 1934, the soon-to-be-titled "Monsters of the Midway" had already played football in the Windy City since 1921, and the Lions were in the middle of their first season in Motown. Coming into the matchup, the Bears held a 5-2-2 record -- dating back to 1930 -- against the pre-Detroit Portsmouth Spartans and were reigning NFL champions. The game was a back-and-forth affair, and after leading 16-7 at halftime, the Lions couldn't add to their total, losing by a score of 19-16.

Taking into account this game and the other aforementioned games, the Bears lead the series with a record of 96-65-5. That's a total of 166 games, making the rivalry the longest-running annual series, meaning both teams have met at least once a year since 1930. The Lions and Packers hold the longest-running continuous series, since they've met twice per season since 1932.

In the NFL, the Bears are the most-played opponent in Lions history (one more game than the Green Bay Packers). Looking at the entire series, it's easily defined as streaky, as there have been 21 winning streaks of three or more games between the two teams. Unfortunately for the Lions, the Bears hold claim to the two longest winning stretches, an 11-game winning streak from 1946-51 and a 10-game winning streak from 1984-89. For comparison, the Lions' longest winning streak against the Bears ran from 1968-70, a span of six games (which the Bears have matched twice, from 1941-43 and 2008-10).

Needless to say, the majority of the games between Detroit and Chicago haven't been enjoyable or memorable for Lions fans. For the sake of masochism, here are a few games that stick out for all the wrong reasons (in reverse chronological order):

  1. Sept. 12, 2010: One of the most bitter losses in recent memory, this game created what's now known as the "Calvin Johnson rule," which I, along with Calvin, still don't understand. For anyone who started watching the Lions on Sept. 13, 2010, here's what happened: Down 19-14, the Lions faced second-and-10 from Chicago's 25-yard line with 31 seconds left on the clock. By some magic (Chicago turnovers), Detroit still had a shot at victory, even though the offense ended the game with 168 total yards.

    Shaun Hill was leading the offense due to Matthew Stafford going down with a shoulder injury before halftime. After the snap, Hill lofted the ball into the corner of the end zone, and Johnson made a beautiful, indisputable, game-winning touchdown catch. Except he didn't complete the "process," and the Lions failed to do anything on their next two snaps, losing the game. Following the game, I played this video countless times throughout my freshmen year at college whenever anyone bugged me about failing Detroit sports teams. (Warning: The word "fudge" is used a lot.)

  2. Nov. 24, 2002: Four days after this game, on Thanksgiving Day, the only thing Marty Mornhinweg had to be thankful for was that he didn't take the wind on national television, because 1) more people would have been watching and 2) he would have been inside of a dome. The whole "taking the wind" debacle doesn't need to be relived, so I'm going to stop here. Instead, let's try to remember Marty during the celebratory times, and not for the numerous moments he made Lions fans make this face.

  3. Nov. 27, 1980, Thanksgiving Day: This game holds more significance in my family than probably any other. It's a safe bet that most fans watching the '80 Turkey Day game erased the painful memory from their mind. To them, Thanksgiving 1980 never happened. However, the unfortunate game took place, pitting the Lions and the Bears against each other.

    For the entire day, it was the Lions' game to lose. Detroit scored points in each of the first three quarters and led 17-3 heading into the final frame. The Bears would add a touchdown in the fourth before starting a drive on their own 6-yard line with 3:37 left in the game. 14 plays later, Chicago found the end zone on a quarterback scramble as time expired. Tied at 17 apiece, the game headed into overtime, and on the opening kickoff, the Bears returned the ball 95 yards to end the game.

    My Uncle Jimbo -- a die-hard fan -- renounced the team following the collapse, saying: "That's it; I'll never watch these bums again." Fed up with the Lions' losing ways, he stayed true to his words until he passed away. Assuming the '80 season ended the same, a win against the Bears would have sent the Lions to the playoffs for the first time in a decade and the second time in team history since the Super Bowl began. If, for whatever reason, you want to see highlights, check out the whole game here and the final moments here.

But enough bad. Let's talk about some good times and remember the first career start for quarterback Eric Hipple.

Oct. 19, 1981, Monday Night Football at the Pontiac Silverdome - Detroit Lions 48, Chicago Bears 17

As of today, the Lions hold a 12-14-1 record on Monday Night Football since the featured game started in 1970. But coming into their '81 showdown with the Bears, Detroit held an even record at 4-4-1 for Monday night games (the one tie came in 1971 against the Packers, the first tie in MNF history). It was their first MNF contest since 1975, and the Lions looked for something to cheer about after starting the '81 campaign with two wins and four losses. On the other sideline, the Bears needed anything to root for after starting 1-5. It should be noted that both teams expected better results, since one year prior, both teams had decent seasons: the Lions went 9-7 and the Bears flipped that at 7-9.

Due to their poor start to the season, the Lions decided to start quarterback Eric Hipple -- the second-year pro and No. 4 draft pick in 1980 -- against the Bears instead of second-string Jeff Komlo, who was replacing starter Gary Danielson due to a dislocated wrist. I wasn't around, but I'm sure Detroit didn't expect the performance they received from Hipple on that Monday night over three decades ago.

After a 48-yard pass on the first play of the game, Hipple ended up capping the drive with a 1-yard rushing touchdown to give the Lions an early lead. From that point on, the game became the Eric Hipple Show. The Bears responded with a touchdown, but Hipple helped set up a 49-yard Eddie Murray field goal to give the Lions a 10-7 lead heading into the second quarter.

Switching sides didn't bother Hipple, as he kicked off the scoring in quarter two with a 4-yard touchdown run, giving Detroit a 17-7 lead. Again, Chicago bounced back with a Walter Payton touchdown of their own, trimming the Lions' lead back to three points. But the Bears wouldn't sniff Detroit from that point on, as Hipple assumed complete control of the game. Later in the second, the Lions faced a third-and-10 from Chicago's 28-yard line. Hipple escaped the pass rush and dumped a pass to running back Rick Kane, who took the ball to the 3-yard line. Two plays later, Hipple found Kane again for the touchdown: 24-17. But that wasn't the end for Hipple before halftime. With the clock running out on the first half, Hipple led the Lions 42 yards to set up a 53-yard field goal for Murray. Murray connected, giving the Lions a 27-17 lead at the half and hitting the longest field goal for Detroit since a 54-yarder in 1934 by Glenn Presnell.

Before the third quarter started, Hipple's stat line read: 10 for 21 for 169 yards with 1 touchdown and 2 rushing touchdowns. In the second half, he'd almost double his yards and quadruple his touchdown total on 4 passes. Hipple went 4 for 4 in the third and fourth quarters, and his final three passes went for a 10-yard, a 44-yard and a 94-yard touchdown, respectively. Each of the three scoring drives took two plays or less, and the 94-yard score was the third longest in team history. I should add that all of this offense came without top rusher Billy Sims, who sat out with a sore toe. That didn't matter, however, as replacement Rick Kane outgained the legendary Walter Payton 101 yards to 89.

As for Hipple, he finished 14 for 25 for 336 yards with 4 passing touchdowns and 2 rushing touchdowns. I didn't search through every one of his game logs, but I doubt he ever had a game this impressive. Regardless, it's one hell of a way to start your NFL career. Hipple's 6-touchdown performance helped the Lions score the most points in franchise history since 1954, when they beat the San Francisco 49ers 48-7.

After the game, Hipple put it best: "Whatever we called seemed to be the right play." Let's hope Stafford receives the same fortune as Hipple on Sunday against the Bears.

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