On Any Given Sunday: The Lions Historic Upset of Green Bay in 1962

Unlike any other sport, football has an ebb and flow where a wild swing of momentum can feel like a psunami for the team the tide is against. When Bert Bell, former NFL Commissioner, announced in a call with the press “On any given Sunday, any team in the NFL can beat any other team.” he had to have this game in mind. Now of course he said this while he was the NFL’s head honcho in the 1950’s, he wouldn’t be around for this game in ’62 with his passing in ’59.

Well as the 1960’s beckoned change had come to the NFL. The league office moved from Philadelphia to New York after Bell’s passing with a new Commissioner in Pete Rozelle. The Colts, who had ruled the closing of the 50s with back to back championships had fallen from grace as the doormat Packers had emerged from the shadows.

Doormat?? In 1957 and 1958, which were the two years before Vince Lombardi was plucked from New York as coach, Green Bay finished 3-9 and 1-10-1 respectively. Then their  meteoric rise to a winning season in ’59 and appearance in the NFL Championship in 1960 with a 17-13 loss to the Eagles.

Lombardi’s team stormed to the ’61 title with a 37-0 win over the New York Giants establishing a new era where they became the league’s dominant team. As defending champions they stormed to a 10-0 record in the most powerful start to a season in NFL history to that point.

Considering they had outscored their opponents 309-74 which included 3 shutouts while holding 7 teams to 10 points or less. Lombardi’s men seemed destined to repeat as champion & traveled to claim their 11th consecutive victim 11 on Thanksgiving Day in the motor city.

What is lost to history is how great an era of football the Lions had enjoyed during the 1950’s. They had won back to back championships in 1952 & ’53 over the Cleveland Browns. Although they won just as many championships (3) in the decade it was the Browns who were known as the Team of the ’50’s.

Head Coach George Wilson was rebuilding the Lions after a losing season in 1959. He succeeded Buddy Parker and led the Lions to their last title in ’57 as a rookie coach yet had to start anew at quarterback. Hall of Famer Bobby Layne had been traded to Pittsburgh and bullpen ace Tobin Rote was out of football. Detroit then traded for QB Milt Plum who had been a 2nd round pick of the Cleveland Browns to lend stability to the offense in 1962.

Although they had lost earlier in the season at Lambeau 9-7, the Lions were riding a 4 game winning streak and were 8-2 heading into their annual Thanksgiving Day game which they had played in since 1934.

The 8-2 Lions hosting the 10-0 defending NFL Champion Packers in front of a national audience:

This 26-14 win by the Lions was the only blemish on what became the most powerful NFL championship season up to that time. Green Bay finished 13-1 and beat the NY Giants for a 2nd straight NFL title 16-7 in cold blustery Yankee Stadium. They had outscored their opponents 415-148 which was just short of the 144 points allowed which was the all time record defensively. They had scored the most points and given up the fewest for the season. Hall of Fame RB Jim Taylor had led the league in rushing with 1,474 yards and an NFL record 19TDs. Even the ’72 Dolphins can’t measure up to this type of dominance.

As for the ’62 Lions, they finished 11-3 with a roster featuring 6 Pro Bowl players and 4 Hall of Fame players in Dick “Night Train” Lane, MLB Joe Schmidt, FS Yale Lary, and Dick Lebeau off of the defense. Many feel DT Alex Karras and DT Roger Brown also deserve to be in Canton. This was one of the greatest defenses assembled whose legacy was derailed by Karras’ year long suspension for gambling in 1963. The Lions fell to 5-8-1 in that year and never threatened the Packers for supremacy in the NFL’s Western Conference the rest of the decade.

However on one Thanksgiving Day in front of a national audience this defense played a lights out game and derailed the Packer’s perfect season.

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The Soul of The Game: Dick “Night Train” Lane

When you talk about the soul of the NFL game, you can’t tell the story of hitting and defensive might without “Night Train” Lane. A Hall of Fame member. In fact one thing you’ll note as we go through this series is the fact that most of these players were bigger than what was customary for playing their respective positions. Standing 6’1 and 195lbs in 1952, Lane was the size of your average linebacker but was platooned at cornerback. In fact he was trying out at receiver and projected to be a tight end hence his wearing the number 81. Yet he was moved to the defensive side of the ball where he went to work.

Lane was one of the hardest hitters of the 1950’s and early 60s where he manhandled smaller receivers and runners. Many of which he tackled around the head using the facemask. Of course these tactics are outlawed today but Lane was the reason for these new rulings. As you will see in this NFL Films short he was savage when he brought down an opponent. He had complete disregard for his body with his reckless play so naturally he didn’t care for his opponent’s.

However one of the differences between Lane and other hard hitting defensive backs in history, he still made plays on the ball. Think about it for a second… When I say envision Jack Tatum you can’t conjure up a single image of his intercepting a pass. In fact Lane’s rookie record of 14 interceptions in a 12 game season is an NFL record that still stands and will never be broken. It has stood for over 60 years and the closest anyone has come to it was Lester Hayes in 1980 with 13, then Everson Walls with 11 in 1981. Those were achieved during the modern 16 game season format.

Lane was the prototype to the modern NFL cornerback in baiting quarterbacks to throw in his area by allowing the receiver to look as though they were open. Then he’d swoop in for the interception. If he was late getting there…well…this is what happened

Dick “Night Train” Lane left us in 2002, yet his spirit of hard hitting football lives on every time you see a defensive back clock a receiver. Yet a clean shot can be delivered with a forearm or a shoulder and not lead with the head. This Hall of Fame talent played 14 seasons, made 7 pro bowls and has his bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame