One for the road: Detroit Lions vs. Minnesota Vikings

Andy Clayton King

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

Before the Minnesota Vikings, another professional team played in the Land of 10,000 Lakes back in 1905 through the end of 1924 -- as the Minneapolis Marines -- and one more time from 1929 to 1930 -- as the Minneapolis Red Jackets. Before joining the American Pro Football Association in 1921 (the last year before the league was renamed to what it is today), the Marines dominated the independent football scene by going 76-12-6 in 14 seasons from 1905 to '20 (they didn't play in 1906 or '18). However, their success wouldn't last once they joined the NFL. The team started its professional career going 4-11-3 in its first three years and disbanded in 1924 after a 0-6 season. After starting back up as the Red Jackets, the team continued its poor play with a 2-16-1 record over its final two seasons.

With two failed attempts, the state of Minnesota would remain without professional football until the AFL awarded a trio of local businessmen a team. The group would fail to hold up their end of the bargain and instead formed an NFL team in 1961: the Minnesota Vikings.

Unfortunately for the Detroit Lions, the third time would prove to be the charm for a professional team in Minnesota. The Vikings have four Super Bowl trips to the Lions' none (which doesn't matter that much in my opinion since they've lost all four), but more painfully, Minnesota has dominated Detroit since '61 with a record of 68-33-2. Part of this disparity is thanks to the powerful Vikings squads from the late 60s into the 70s, when they went on a 13-game winning streak against the Lions (from '68 to '74 to be exact). On top of that, Minnesota held another 13-game winning streak at home against the Lions from 1998 to 2011.

Even though the Lions have only mustered 33 wins over 103 games against the Vikings, that's not to say there haven't been plenty of bright moments for Detroit to celebrate at home. In 1981, the Lions embarrassed the Vikings 45-7 behind a strong outing by quarterback Eric Hipple -- 13 for 21 for 188 yards and 2 touchdowns. Running back Billy Sims added 110 yards on 13 carries (re-breaking the Lions' single-season rushing record he set a year earlier en route to his best individual season) in what is the most lopsided victory between the two teams. The win eliminated the Vikings from playoff contention and kept the Lions' hopes alive, which eventually died thanks to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But the '81 game pales in comparison to the game held on Oct. 6, 1991. It was one of those classic "Barry" games, where he did something ridiculous that parents tell their children about generation after generation.

Oct. 6, 1991 - Detroit Lions 24, Minnesota Vikings 20

I wish I had been alive to experience the 1991 Lions season, or at least say I was living during it. But I wasn't that lucky, and instead I joined the Honolulu Blue and Silver fandom a couple of weeks into 1992. So maybe it's my fault the Lions haven't had more than 10 wins or made the playoffs since '91. Whatever the case, '91 stills stands as Detroit's best season in team history. The Lions went 12-4, annihilated the Dallas Cowboys 38-6 in the divisional round of the playoffs in arguably the greatest game in team history and all signs pointed to '91 being "the year" for Detroit until the Washington Redskins thanked them for dispatching their divisional foe with a 41-10 rout. However, the season wasn't all glory on the road to the playoffs. In Week 12, starting right guard Mike Utley suffered a neck injury that left him paralyzed from the neck down. These days, Mike's regained most function in his upper extremities. To that, I say, "Thumbs Up Mike."

The '91 team featured a host of notable Lions: Chris Spielman, the hard-nosed, standup guy who should've been a Lion for life; Herman Moore, the future team legend in his rookie campaign; Mel Gray, the dominant kick returner; and Barry Sanders, the elite, always fun to watch running back who could do it all. In the first '91 game against the Vikings, Barry would do what he did best, taking control of the game.

After the first three quarters saw Detroit able to muster only a single Eddie Murray field goal, the Lions headed into the final frame trailing Minnesota 17-3. The Vikings would continue to keep Detroit quiet and add points themselves, increasing the lead to 20-3 with 8:38 left to play.

With the game looking hopeless, the Lions -- led by Rodney Peete and Barry Sanders -- went off for 21 unanswered points to end the game. Peete started the scoring following the Vikings' field goal with a 68-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Robert Clark. After the Lions recovered an onside kick, Peete led the team on an eight-play, 57-yard drive capped by a touchdown pass to wide receiver Willie Green to cut Minnesota's lead to 20-17.

Detroit's defense would stop the Vikings to give the Lions one more shot, and Barry made the most of it. On third-and-15 with 43 seconds left in the game, Sanders found the end zone, giving him 69 yards in the fourth quarter. For the game, Barry rushed 25 times for 116 yards and caught 9 passes for 76 yards. It was his fourth consecutive game with over 100 yards; Billy Sims is the only other Lion to ever accomplish that feat.

The win gave the Lions possession of first place in the division and their best start to a season since 1980. But in ‘91, the Lions weren't selling out home games, and by the time the fourth quarter rolled around, most of the 63,423-member crowd had already left the Silverdome. According to coach Wayne Fontes, those who stayed to witness the Lions score 3 touchdowns in the final 6:50 "sounded like 100,000." And in regards to his team that day: "I've been around football all my life. That fourth quarter by this total team was the best football I've ever been around in my life. A thing of beauty."

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