Oct. 6 hasn't always been pretty, but that's not to say the date's always been ugly. The Detroit Lions hold a 5-6 record throughout history in games played on the sixth of October. This breaks what everyone hoped would be a trend set by last week, which saw the Lions hold a slightly better 6-4-1 record on game day. It's unfortunate that these posts continue to revisit hardships, but as we all know, Detroit's football history isn't sparkling. Regardless, let's try to make the best out of our trip down memory lane.
To start off, let's get two of the six losses out of the way: a 12-10 defeat at the hands of the (now defunct) Brooklyn Dodgers and a close 17-16 loss on the road against the Washington Redskins (but who cares since the Lions ended the Washington road losing streak). The Dodgers' name brings to mind baseball before football, but Brooklyn did host an NFL team from 1934-44 before eventually, in some way, helping the creation of the present-day Indianapolis Colts. Regardless, the Dodgers trumped the Lions on four field goals in 1935. The game ended up being nothing more than a speed bump for Detroit's '35 season since they went on to win the NFL championship that year.
11 years later, Detroit traveled to Washington for another East Coast showdown on the date of Oct. 6. The Redskins had lost the first five meetings with Detroit from 1932-35, but heading into the 1946 game, they held a five-game winning streak against the Lions. After losing for most of the game, Detroit fought back with 9 points in the final quarter, but Washington held off the threat and won the game by a final score of 17-16. The win was Washington's third in their home winning streak against Detroit that ended two weeks ago.
Forgetting those early losses, let's fast forward one decade and revisit three straight Detroit victories on Oct. 6 from 1956 to 1963. In '56, the Lions led by a narrow 10-9 margin heading into the fourth quarter. After being injured earlier in the game, quarterback Bobby Layne returned near the end of the third to boot a field goal on top of scoring a touchdown in the final frame to lead Detroit to a 20-16 victory.
One year later, the Lions traveled to Green Bay to face the Packers. Leading 24-0 in the fourth quarter, Detroit surrendered 2 touchdowns in the final frame to win by a score of 24-14. Six fights marred the last quarter of play, with only one player -- Detroit offensive guard John Gordy -- being ejected.
Moving forward six years, the Lions won another contest, and this time it wasn't so close. Against the San Francisco 49ers in '63, the Lions won by a score of 26-3, and the game carried a significant subplot, as multi-purpose running back Tommy Watkins set an NFL record with 184 return yards on 5 punts, including 1 touchdown. What made those stats more interesting was the fact that the 49ers' head coach, Jack Christiansen, held the previous single-game punt return record at 175 yards. Moreover, he set that record as a member of the Lions. Watkins' touchdown came off of a 90-yard punt return, which also broke Christiansen's Detroit punt return record of 89 yards set in 1951. Watching your records fall has to sting a little more when you're coaching the team that's allowing it all to happen. The Lions never trailed in the victory, and the win broke a two-game losing streak for Detroit in '63 while extending the 49ers' losing streak to four games.
Fast forward five years later to 1968, and the Lions lost their next game on Oct. 6, this time against the Minnesota Vikings by a score of 24-10. After starting the scoring with a field goal in the first quarter, Detroit never regained the lead, and the win gave the Vikings sole possession of first place in the division. The loss against Minnesota started a trend, as the Lions lost three more in a row on Oct. 6. In 1974, the Los Angeles Rams trumped the Lions at home by a score of 16-13, and one year later, Detroit lost a home game against the Dallas Cowboys, 36-10. Moving into the 1980s, nothing changed for the Lions, as they were blown out by the Green Bay Packers, 43-10, in 1985.
However, this recap does end on a positive note since Detroit's won its last two games on Oct. 6: a 24-20 victory against the Minnesota Vikings in 1991 and another win in 1996 against the Atlanta Falcons by a score of 28-24. Against the Vikings, Detroit trailed 20-3 with 8:38 remaining in the game, but quarterback Rodney Peete threw for 2 touchdowns before Barry Sanders added a 15-yard touchdown run with 36 seconds remaining to give the Lions the last-second victory. Five years later, the Lions sprinted out to a 28-7 halftime lead behind 4 touchdowns -- 3 passing and 1 rushing -- by quarterback Scott Mitchell. Detroit didn't score in the second half, but Mitchell's early scoring proved to be enough, as the Lions gained a 28-24 victory against the Falcons.
Like I said at the start, Oct. 6 hasn't been pretty for the Lions, but recent history has watched Detroit gain some close victories against their opponents. The date even includes one of Detroit's 24 wins at Lambeau Field. After ending the Washington losing streak two weeks ago, I think it's finally time to end the Lambeau losing streak and make Detroit's Oct. 6 winning percentage .500. Who's with me?
Overall record on Oct. 6
'35 at Brooklyn Dodgers, 10-12
'46 at Washington Redskins, 16-17
'56 at Baltimore Colts, 31-14
'57 at Green Bay Packers, 24-14
'63 vs. San Francisco 49ers, 26-3
'68 at Minnesota Vikings, 10-24
'74 at Los Angeles Rams, 13-16
'75 vs. Dallas Cowboys, 10-36
'85 at Green Bay Packers, 10-43
'91 vs. Minnesota Vikings, 24-20
'96 vs. Atlanta Falcons, 28-24