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One for the road: Detroit Lions at Washington Redskins

Take a look back at the history between the Detroit Lions and Washington Redskins, as well as one of the earliest games between the two NFC foes.

Leon Halip

The Washington Redskins franchise should have never left Boston at the end of the 1936 season. They should have become today's New England Patriots, played ball in the AFC and faced the Detroit Lions once every four years, save a chance encounter in the Super Bowl. At least, that's what the Lions wished had happened, because it would have saved their team and fan base much anguish and disappointment through the years. In their first five meetings, the Lions (called the Portsmouth Spartans in the first two games) never lost to the Boston Redskins (called the Boston Braves in the first game), shutting out the 'Skins in four of those games and outscoring them 78-7 during that stretch. But since the Redskins moved to Washington in 1937, the Lions have lost every game on the road -- 21 straight -- and haven't done great at home, winning seven out of 16 meetings.

And the losses have been ugly and painful, with the Redskins ending three of Detroit's 10 playoff appearances, all in brutal fashion:

  1. 1982: A 31-7 rout in the first round after a strike-shortened season saw the Lions make the postseason with a 4-5 record. Joe Theismann hit 5'7, 178 pound receiver Alvin Garrett 6 times for 110 yards and 3 touchdowns. The 6 six catches sextupled Garrett's reception total on the year (yes, he only had 1 catch on the season coming into the game). Positive takeaway: The Lions shouldn't have been in the playoffs that year anyway.

  2. 1991: Let's choose to forget the Lions' first trip to the NFC championship game.

  3. 1999: Prior to playing the New Orleans Saints two years ago, this was the last time the Lions had made the playoffs. After crushing the Redskins 33-17 in Week 13 of the '99 season, the Lions dropped four straight games heading into the playoffs. On the road against Washington, the Lions capped their downfall by surrendering a 27-0 lead going into halftime and mustering a pitiful 13 points in the second half against one of the league's worst defenses. Also, there was a "donnybrook." Positive takeaway: '99 was the only year the Redskins didn't go on to win the Super Bowl after beating the Lions in the playoffs.

To put the Lions' losing tendencies against the Redskins in perspective, consider this: The children born on or after Sept. 27, 2009, have the chance to be the first humans in history to see (or since they're so young, live during) a four-year span in which the Lions have played the Redskins more than once and won every meeting. (Note: I'm not including the first game of the series, the Portsmouth Spartans vs. Boston Braves game in 1932, which would change this fact.) Of course, this only comes true if the Lions win on Sunday.

Speaking of Detroit victories, that's exactly what I chose to discuss this week. The last time the Lions beat the Redskins on the road, the teams played the game at Fenway Park, FDR sat in the Oval Office, the Dust Bowl destroyed crops and WWII loomed ahead.

Oct. 13, 1935 - Detroit Lions 17, Boston Redskins 7

Coming into the showdown at Fenway, both teams had lost their first game of the season in the previous week, with the Lions sitting at a record of 1-1-1 and the Redskins at 1-1. The Lions looked to bounce back from a disappointing 1934 campaign, which saw them start the season 10-0 before missing the playoffs by dropping the final three games of the season. On the other sideline, the 'Skins aimed to continue their upward trend since becoming an NFL franchise in 1932, as they had increased their win total by one each year.

Following the opening kickoff, the Lions controlled the game and the Redskins in front of 20,000 spectators. The first half didn't see much action outside of a 35-yard field goal by the Lions' Glenn Presnell. In the second half, Detroit asserted its dominance behind its powerful offensive line. After the teams traded interceptions, Presnell returned a punt 16 yards to the Redskins' 38-yard line. Two rushes, a Presnell reception and two more rushes put the Lions on the 16-yard line facing third-and-4. On the next play, LeRoy "Ace" Gutowsky, a fullback who set the NFL rushing record in '39 and held the Lions' career and single-season rushing records for a couple decades, threw a pass to Earl "Dutch" Clark, an all-around offensive weapon, for the score.

Leading 10-0, the Lions traded possessions with the Redskins until Boston scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter, the team's first against the Lions. Later in the final frame, Detroit added another 7 points on a 63-yard drive behind the strength of back Ernie Caddel, who ran for 43, 10 and 10 yards before finding the end zone. With that, the score became 17-7 in favor of the Lions, which would end up being the final.

For the Redskins, the loss was the second in what became an eight-game losing streak (the Lions beat them again in Week 6). On the other hand, the win gave Detroit momentum, and they only lost two more games that season (both against Green Bay) en route to the team's first NFL championship, a 26-7 victory against the New York Giants. So, based on history, a Lions road victory against the Redskins on Sunday should lead to a Super Bowl victory this season.

Fun fact: In '35, it seems that Roary was a bit more frightening. According to the Boston Globe following the game:

"These Lions carry with them a Lion that parades up and down the sidelines. Don't get scared, it is a follower in costume. The mask and mane is done pretty good, too. When the Lions are going good, this Lion prances and dances all over the place."

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