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One for the road: Detroit Lions at Philadelphia Eagles

Take a look back at the history between the Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles, as well as all of Detroit's road wins in the series.

Joe Robbins

At the end of the 1932 NFL season, the Portsmouth Spartans (the present-day Detroit Lions) sat tied atop the standings with the Chicago Bears. Since the league title went to the team with the best record, the tie caused the NFL to hold the first playoff game in league history, which the Bears won by a score of 9-0. (It's sort of funny to think that the Lions, a franchise not known for postseason trips, played in the first NFL playoff game.)

The game proved to be successful, and its popularity shifted the landscape of professional football toward what it is today. Following '32, the NFL stopped following college football's rules and created its own set, which included moving the field goal posts to the goal line, allowing a forward pass from anywhere in the backfield and putting hash marks on the field. The league also expanded from eight teams to 10 and divided into two divisions. With the expansion came two new teams, both housed in the state of Pennsylvania: one being the Pittsburgh Pirates (the present-day Pittsburgh Steelers) and the other being the Lions' opponent this week, the Philadelphia Eagles.

Even though both teams have existed since the '30s, they haven't played many games since they've never been in the same division and weren't even in the same conference until the formation of the NFC in 1970. With a smaller sample size, the Eagles head into Sunday's game holding a slight edge in the all-time series with a 15-13-2 record against the Lions. However, Detroit holds a better record on the road (9-8) than they do at home (4-7-2) against Philly. That sounds like a positive for this week, but it shouldn't be taken as one: six of those nine road wins came before 1960, and since then, the Lions have gone 3-7, with some ugly losses in recent years (e.g. the Donovan McNabb-led 56-21 blowout in 2007 and the ill-fated 1995 playoff disaster).

Since there are only nine road wins to choose from in this series -- and only those of us over 60 can remember more than three of them -- I'll recap each victory below:

  • 1933 - Spartans 25, Eagles 0: Halfback Glenn Presnell led the Spartans in the '33 blowout by accounting for 3 total scores. Presnell scored via a 32-yard touchdown run, a 64-yard touchdown pass and a field goal. He went on to set the single-season scoring record in '33, and he led the league in total offense.

  • 1934 - Lions 10, Eagles 0: In their inaugural season, the Lions shut out the Eagles to remain undefeated on the season without surrendering any points to their first four opponents. Detroit turned 2 Philadelphia fumbles into all of its points: a touchdown run by running back Ernie Caddel and a field goal by Earl "Dutch" Clark. After the Eagles game, the Lions won six more in a row (with three more consecutive shutouts) before losing the final three games and missing the playoffs.

  • 1936 - Lions 23, Eagles 0: The reigning NFL champion Lions outgained the Eagles 261-73 and dominated the game from start to finish. "Dutch" Clark scored first for the Lions, breaking off a 35-yard touchdown run. Detroit scored 7 more a few minutes later off a blocked Philly punt, and Presnell scored the final 10 points with a 20-yard TD pass and 31-yard field goal to end the game.

  • 1940 - Lions 21, Eagles 0: Behind a dominant rushing attack, Detroit won its fourth consecutive game on the road against the Eagles with another shutout. Halfbacks Byron "Whizzer" White and Lloyd Cardwell split the offensive production, with Cardwell scoring the first touchdown on a 30-yard reverse and White pounding in the final 2 scores from 7 and 5 yards, respectively.

  • 1951 - Lions 28, Eagles 10: After the Lions suffered their first road defeat to the Eagles, Bobby Layne entered the picture to torch Philly for 3 touchdown passes in the victory. Detroit fell behind 10-0 in the second quarter before Layne, with the help of halfback Bob Hoernschemeyer, took control of the game. Following an interception, Layne put Detroit on the board as time expired in the first half, hitting Hoernschemeyer for an 18-yard TD pass. Bobby added another passing score after a Philly fumble before Hoernschemeyer tossed a TD of his own. Then, the Lions intercepted another Eagles pass, and Layne capped the victory with Detroit's fourth aerial touchdown.

  • 1957 - Lions 27, Eagles 16: Even an injured Layne proved to be too much for Philly to handle in '57, as he came off the bench to account for all of Detroit's offense in the victory. With a 3-0 deficit and an inept offense, a hobbled Layne entered the game, going 8 for 13 for 147 yards and 3 touchdowns and 2 field goals. According to the Los Angeles Times, "[a]t one stretch in the second quarter, Layne completed six in a row, every other one a touchdown." The win proved to be important that year, as the Lions needed every one of its victories to make the postseason, where they earned the franchise's most recent NFL championship.

  • 1965 - Lions 35, Eagles 28: This game pitted the league's top offense, Philly, against the league's best defense and worst offense, Detroit. By game's end, the Lions had reversed the roles on offense, as they outgained the Eagles 327-93. Quarterback Milt Plum and rookie running back Tom Nowatzke led Detroit's offensive attack with 4 touchdowns between them. After the Lions squandered a 28-14 lead in a 2-minute span in the third quarter, Plum and Nowatzke connected on a 22-yard pass for the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter.

  • 1986 - Lions 13, Eagles 11: In an overall boring game, the Lions stole an exciting last-second victory away from the Eagles. With 1:44 left in regulation, Detroit safety Demetrious Johnson knocked the ball out of the hands of Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham. The Lions recovered the loose pigskin and drove 14 yards to set up a 41-yard field goal try for Eddie Murray with 12 seconds remaining. Murray punched the ball through the uprights to secure the victory, which he said he dreamed of doing the night before the game.

  • 2012 - Lions 26, Eagles 23 (OT): Before last year became a season of broken dreams, the Lions stormed back from a fourth quarter deficit to rip victory from Philly's hands in overtime. Trailing 23-13 with a little over five minutes left in the game, Matthew Stafford led the Lions to their second touchdown in the quarter, hitting Nate Burleson to cut the deficit to 23-20. After Ndamukong Suh deflected a Michael Vick pass to force the Eagles to punt, the Lions regained possession, and Calvin Johnson did this. Following the catch, the Lions set up a 19-yard field goal, which Jason Hanson nailed with seconds remaining to force overtime. In extra time, the Lions defense sacked Vick twice on the opening drive, and on the punt, Stefan Logan attempted to fumble the ball back to Philly. Luckily, he recovered his mistake, and Hanson ended up kicking the game-winning 45-yard field goal a couple minutes later. Watch the full game highlights here.
What does all this mean for Sunday? Probably nothing. Eric's already discussed how Nick Foles is doing some goofy stuff for the Eagles right now (19 TDs and 0 picks, really?), and I agree that Sunday comes down to Foles/LeSean McCoy vs. the Lions defense. I see Sunday's game mirroring '51 or '57 in the best-case scenario and '65 or last year in the worst-case scenario. Either way, I think Detroit picks up a much-needed road victory in Philadelphia this week.

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