Welcome back to “The history of...” This is where Pride of Detroit gets its weekly Ken Burns action on and learns some good old fashion history the way your dad likes it. So put on your New Balance shoes, freshen up that iced tea and get comfortable in that lounge chair. We’re doing the history thing again this week.
When it all started and what the world was like
On October 22, nearly one year after Black Tuesday had started the The Great Depression, the Portsmouth Spartans welcomed the Chicago Bears for their first ever matchup. In the ultimate shootout of a game, the Spartans came away with a 7-6 win.
You never really think about what it was like for NFL players during the depression. As we know, they weren’t bringing home million dollar contracts, unless your name was Red Grange. The Bears quarterback at the time had the first big NFL contract when the Bears paid him $100,000 for a season. Grange was also one of the first players to have endorsement deals. He was even in a movie in 1926. Spartans quarterback Chuck Bennet played one year for the Spartans and then retired three years later to become a high school football coach and athletic director. Clearly these two were on different plains.
Okay, that was the Portsmouth Spartans, what about the actual Detroit Lions? Well that came a few years later in 1934. The Lions lost to the Bears 19-16 at the University of Detroit stadium. The Lions oddly played the Bears again the very next week.
Because I like to look this stuff up, the number one song in America the day the Lions played the Bears on that day in 1934 was this banger by Benny Goodman.
The Lions have played the Bears a total of 182 times. Only the Packers have played more games against the Lions. The Bears have beaten the Lions 102 of those times. The Lions have won 75 times and the two teams have tied five times. The Lions are 29-59-4 when playing in Chicago. Not good.
I’m sure there are plenty, but the Matthew Stafford glove game in 2011 is still the one that sticks in my craw. The Lions were on a roll that season. Just a few weeks earlier, they beat the Bears at home on Monday Night Football in one of the the finest nights in Detroit football history. Then Matthew Stafford hurt his hand and was forced to put on gloves to play against the Bears. Stafford then threw four interceptions in a 37-13 loss. Ugly.
I’m getting personal here. My favorite Lions vs. Bears memory will always be my first ever Lions game. November 15, 1998, the day after my 13th birthday. I went to the Silverdome with my step dad and saw the Lions win 26-3 over the Bears. I can say that I saw Barry Sanders play one time and that’s cool with me. He ran for 114 yards that day, but it was fullback Tommy Vardell who had the big day. He ran for two touchdowns and caught one, too. Good times.
Does it get any better than that Monday night game in 2011? There was just a feeling that night. It was incredible. The Lions were undefeated and it seemed like the world cared about us again. The crowd at Ford Field was insane. I’m not sure it’s ever been louder than it was that night. Completely packed, too.
Jahvid Best ran for 163 yards including this 88-yard scamper that had the crowd ready to riot.
Matthew Stafford threw 219 yards and two touchdowns. Calvin Johnson had five catches for 130 yards and a touchdown. Cliff Avril, Lawrence Jackson and Willie Young all got to Jay Cutler. The Lions won 24-13 and improved to 5-0. I drank a lot of alcohol that night.