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One for the road: Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers

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

Jonathan Daniel

Before the Portsmouth Spartans (and therefore, the Detroit Lions) existed, the Green Bay Packers already had an NFL championship under their belt from the 1929 season. Portsmouth created their franchise the next year, and after the Spartans lost their first meeting with the Packers in 1930, Green Bay went on to win the championship two more years in a row. By the time the Lions came to be, the Packers were an established NFL powerhouse in their second decade of existence. However, this didn't matter in the first meeting between the Lions and the Packers, as Detroit earned a 3-0 victory on the road.

That first win on the road must have jinxed the franchise, because, as everyone already knows, the Lions don't perform well in the state of Wisconsin. Even before Lambeau Field opened in 1957, Detroit wasn't very good against the Pack on the road. From the Spartans' first meeting in 1930 to the end of 1956, the Packers compiled an 18-9 record against the Lions at home, with only two of Detroit's victories being over 10 points.

Since the opening of the "Frozen Tundra" (which hasn't been "frozen" since 1967), the Lions' record isn't any prettier on the road, resting at an ugly 38-15-4, which includes the current 22-game road losing streak for Detroit. For reference, the image above describes recent Lions trips to Green Bay as well as any picture could. If you include the Lions' 41-39-3 record at home, the series record leans toward the Packers a little less strongly at 95-65-7.

Moving back to the current 22-game road losing streak, it's hard to look at the Lions-Packers rivalry these days without focusing on Detroit's poor play and bad luck in Green Bay: the Lions lost in the first round of the '94 playoffs after the Packers held Barry Sanders to a career-low -1 yards rushing on 13 carries (and -4 yards rushing as a team), the last three games at Lambeau have been decided by 7 points or less and the back-to-back 16-13 losses in 2004-05 come to mind as some of the more painful of the 22.

But instead of digging deeper into the losses, let's travel back to December 1991. The calendar read 10 days before Christmas, and the Lions were knee deep in the middle of the greatest season in team history. My mother's stomach bulged during the eighth month of her pregnancy with me, and my dad's mind floated between Super Bowl dreams and first child excitement. Barry was busy being Barry, and Herman Moore neared the end of the first year of his illustrious career. Third-stringer Erik Kramer remained in the starting role after Rodney Peete injured his Achilles, and the whole team continued to rally behind Mike Utley: "Thumbs Up Mike!"

With all of this, the Lions headed into Lambeau at 10-4, in need of a win to clinch, at the minimum, a playoff spot. At the time, Detroit was still tied with the Chicago Bears for first place in the division. In Green Bay, Detroit won the game by a score of 21-17, and not only did it end up being the game that clinched the division, but it was the last win for the Lions on the road against the Packers.

Dec. 15, 1991 - Detroit Lions 21, Green Bay Packers 17

Heading into their matchup against the Packers, the Lions had already played four outdoor games in '91, and the four games accounted for all of Detroit's losses. While the field wasn't frozen due to underground heating coils, there was no escaping the game-time temperature of 10 degrees and wind chills of 10 to 20 below zero. However, the weather didn't seem to bother head coach Wayne Fontes, according to the Chicago Tribune, as Fontes said after the game: "I think I'm getting to like this weather. We have great gear."

In the first quarter, the Packers struck first with a 30-yard touchdown run to take an early 7-0 lead. But the Lions evened the score shortly thereafter following a 19-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Erik Kramer to wide receiver Robert Clark. After trading points in the first, Green Bay did all of the scoring in the second quarter by adding a field goal to take a 10-7 lead into the locker rooms. Following the break, Detroit failed to do anything on offense in the third quarter but held the Packers at bay to keep the score at 10-7. Entering the fourth quarter, the Lions had the wind in their face and needed to find a way to score. They ended up doing just that.

With a little under 12 minutes left in the game, Kramer found Clark for another touchdown on a fade route on third-and-goal from Green Bay's 3-yard line. On the ensuing drive, the Packers failed to respond to Detroit's touchdown and punted after a three-and-out. As he waited for the ball, Mel Gray described his thought process: "I started to fair-catch the ball and then I said, 'It's time to go for it,' and things worked out. It's a split-second decision. I felt the room. I made a couple of jukes and then there was daylight." Gray ended up returning the punt 78 yards, untouched, for a touchdown to give the Lions a 21-10 lead and their second touchdown in a minute and a half.

After watching their lead turn into an 11-point deficit, the Packers fought back by scoring a touchdown with a little over 4 minutes remaining. Green Bay gained possession one more time before the end of the game but failed to convert a fourth-and-1 attempt with 2:11 left to play. The stop sealed Detroit's 21-17 comeback victory over the Packers.

Following the big win, which put Detroit in the playoffs for the first time since 1983, Fontes shared nothing but happiness and praise for the Lions:

"We're in the playoffs, and I can't believe it. We had a lot to prove. We're good enough to win anywhere. But we still want more than just the playoffs. We have a chance to win the division.

"I'm very, very proud of this team. This is probably the proudest I've been of a team. To win on the road, in December, to win in the fourth quarter -- it's a tremendous plus."

The win raised Detroit's record to 11-4, tying the franchise record set in 1962, and kept the team's hopes of winning the division alive. The Lions went on to win the final game of the season to set the team record at 12 wins. Coupled with a Chicago loss, Detroit won the Central Division for the first time in history back in '91. As for the playoffs, they started out with a bang but didn't end all that well. But at least the most recent memory associated with a win at Lambeau includes the playoffs, right?

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