Before Week 4, I spent some time writing about the history between these two division foes, as well as focusing on how the Detroit Lions have fared at home against the Chicago Bears. Since the Lions play at Soldier Field on Sunday, I'll be doing the opposite in this feature and review how Detroit's handled its 84 previous trips to the Windy City.
If you take a look at the Lions' home record against the Bears (42-40-1), you might stay positive and think, "Well, at least they're over .500." However, a .500 record at home usually hints at a rougher situation on the road, and unfortunately, that's the case for the Lions. In 84 road games against the Bears, Detroit has struggled to a disappointing 56-24-4 record. I won't spend long dwelling on past failures, but here are some not-so-fun facts for the sake of masochism: It took 10 tries for the Lions to win a game on the road against the Bears, but during the contest, Earl "Dutch" Clark -- Detroit's player-coach -- became the NFL's all-time leading scorer; Detroit has won two or more games in a row only twice in Chicago, with back-to-back victories from 1938-39 and six straight wins from 1968-73; since the win in '73, the Lions have won only 10 games at Soldier Field (that's an ugly .256 win percentage) and have lost the last five meetings. I'll stop here.
With all this, you're probably flipping through your mental Rolodex of Lions games, scanning each card for a memorable road game against the Bears. Hopefully I can help your search, even though I'm a kid who has been alive for only six Detroit road wins in this series and old enough to remember just three. Unlike past weeks, I've decided to eliminate all losses from further discussion. The past is bad enough already.
Furthermore, instead of focusing on one game, I've decided to give a rundown of all 24 road wins so that you can go through, find your favorite and reminisce about previous triumphs:
- The '38 and '39 games were typical low-scoring matches reminiscent of that era of football (13-7 and 10-0, respectively).
- In '45, the Lions won 35-28 after erasing two 14-point deficits during the game, with "Bullet Bob" Westfall scoring the game-winning touchdown to cap off a 60-yard drive in the final 2 minutes of regulation.
- Bobby Layne took control in '51, scoring 4 touchdowns to lead Detroit to a 41-28 victory. Two more games in the '50s watched the Lions win a close battle in the second half: In '53, Detroit won 20-16 after picking off a George Blanda pass inside Chicago's 10-yard line to set up the game-clinching touchdown, and in '57, the Lions rallied from a 10-0 deficit at halftime to score 3 unanswered touchdowns for a 21-13 victory.
- Each of the four Detroit wins in the '60s had their own charm. In '61, the Lions scored with 22 seconds remaining to seal a 16-15 victory. '64 witnessed the Lions defense shut out the defending NFL champs while holding them to 29 yards rushing in a 10-0 win. Mel Farr scored 3 touchdowns and outplayed Gale Sayers to give the Lions a never-in-doubt 28-10 win in '68. And in '69, Detroit ended the worst season in Bears history (a final record of 1-13) by pushing them around for 251 total yards while holding them to 96 in a 20-3 victory.
- The two late-60s wins led to four more in a row to start the '70s, with each victory becoming a bit more dominant. The Lions stole a 16-10 win in '70 in a hard-fought contest behind 13 second-half points. A year later, the game wasn't nearly as close, as Detroit sacked Chicago's Bobby Douglass 8 times on top of 4 interceptions in a 28-3 blowout. In '72, the Lions scored on every offensive possession until late in the fourth quarter to win handily by a score of 38-24 (the Bears made the score look better with a pair of late touchdowns). Dick Jauron picked off 3 passes (one returned 95 yards for a touchdown) as the rest of Detroit's defense forced 5 more turnovers to help the Lions destroy the Bears by a score of 30-7 in '73.
- Before heading into the '80s, the Lions eked out a 21-17 win in '78 by stopping the Bears on two fourth down attempts in the second half deep in Detroit territory. '81 would be a game I'd like to go back in time to watch, as the Lions held the Bears to 24 net yards (44 rushing/-20 passing) in a 23-7 victory featuring 3 Eddie Murray field goals. In '83, the Lions shut down Walter Payton and the Bears en route to a solid, nondescript 38-17 win.
- Barry Sanders joined the Lions in 1989 and proceeded to run all over the Bears in his rookie year, rushing for 120 yards on 26 carries with 2 touchdowns to help give Detroit a 27-17 victory. The loss crushed any playoff hopes for Chicago (ending a five-year streak) and put a nice hiccup in the coaching career of Mike Ditka. After the game, Barry responded to questions about his strong performance: "The main statistic was the one on the scoreboard. We've started to eliminate some of the mistakes and turnovers. When we play well, we can beat most teams in the league."
- Without Sanders in '93, Detroit clinched a playoff berth at Soldier Field with a 20-14 victory in the cold of late December. Erik Kramer led the Lions offense by going 23 for 31 for 223 passing yards and 2 touchdowns, including a perfect 6 for 6 for 47 yards on the game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. Two years later, Kramer played for the Bears, but Barry was back for the Lions and put up almost the same stat line as '89: 24 carries for 120 yards and 2 touchdowns, with a long of 29 yards (his long in '89 was 30 yards).
- After two one-score games to start the '90s, the Lions handed the Bears a 32-7 drubbing in '97 behind 4 Jason Hanson field goals and a pair of touchdown passes by Scott Mitchell (one to Herman Moore and the other to my man Johnnie Morton). Barry helped with 164 total yards, and the loss dropped Chicago to 0-3 on the season, its worst start since '69 (the year they finished 1-13).
- Since Y2K, the Lions have only won a trio of close games at Soldier Field: 21-14 in 2000, 20-16 in 2004 and 16-7 in 2007. In '00, Charlie Batch commanded the Lions offense with 207 passing yards and 2 touchdowns, and James Stewart added a touchdown on the ground for Detroit. The 3 touchdowns quadrupled the Lions' TD total for the season up to that point. Lions safety Kurt Schulz snagged 3 picks in the win, which gave Detroit a 3-1 start to the season (a season that ended in bitter disappointment).
- Safety Bracy Walker saved the day for the Lions in '04 with a 92-yard touchdown return following a blocked Bears field goal and an interception in the end zone to seal the win with 18 seconds remaining. The victory ended Detroit's 24-game road losing streak, but near the end of the game, it didn't look like the Lions would hold on. With 1:54 left, the Lions chose to have Nick Harris run out of the end zone instead of attempting a difficult punt. That cut Detroit's lead to 20-16, but it gave them a free kick -- a better option than a punt. However, the Lions allowed Chicago to return the kick back to Detroit's 47-yard line to make the end of the game more difficult than it needed to be.
- The most recent road win for the Lions happened over six years ago, and it was a pretty boring game. Kevin Jones led Detroit's offense, rushing for 105 yards with a touchdown, and Jason Hanson added 3 field goals. Even though the game was boring, I remember the victory well because it moved the Lions to 5-2 on the season and thoughts of the playoffs started to enter my mind. Those postseason dreams only grew stronger with a Detroit win in the following week, but a 1-7 second half erased all of that hope in a hurry.
So there you have it. Road games against the Bears aren't always pretty, but the Lions have had some memorable victories in the past. Furthermore, Detroit's finished above .500 on the season 17 times after beating Chicago on the road. Two of those years finished with NFL championships and three more ended in the playoffs. That sounds good to me.
Bonus: I know I said I wasn't going to talk about losses, but Barry had a ridiculous run in a loss against the Bears in '92 that needs to be revisited. Watch it here (I couldn't chop it, so skip ahead to the 43:20 mark, or watch the whole video because it's awesome).