Ghosts of 1957 Detroit Lions still around and wreaking havoc

Carlos Monarrez
Detroit Free Press
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John Henry Johnson (35) Detroit Lion back roars through for a touchdown in the last minute of play as the Lions defeated the Cleveland Browns 20-7 in Detroit, Mich., Dec. 8, 1957. (AP Photo)

The ghosts of the 1957 Detroit Lions are alive and well. I should know. I’m one of them.

Name’s Layne. Bobby Layne. Maybe you’ve heard of me? Texas legend. The Blond Bomber. Took the Lions to four championship games in the ’50s, won three of ’em.

Still not ringing a bell? OK, then. I played at Matthew Stafford’s high school. There we go. Now I see I’ve got your attention.

Good kid, Stafford. Nice arm on that sprout. Hasn’t had much luck, though. Then again, neither has the team for 60 years. Part of that’s my fault. I hexed them good with that curse. To be honest, I wasn’t sure the curse would take when I laid it on them after George Wilson traded me to Pittsburgh in ’58. Tobin Rote was still a hell of a quarterback.

Lions quarterback Bobby Layne, left, who broke his ankle prior to the game, hugs quarterback Tobin Rote after the Lions beat the 49ers, 31-27, in the Western Conference championship in this Dec. 22, 1957 file photo in San Francisco.

I was mad. Always had a bit of temper. But it made me better. Used to chew out Lou Creekmur so often for missing blocks I think he went deaf in one year.

More:A revealing look at the 1957 Detroit Lions in Joe Schmidt's basement

The day the trade went down, Carol and I were at Joe Schmidt and Gene Cronin’s house on Renaud and that damn Watson Spoelstra from the Detroit News tracked me down and got me on the phone. Told Waddy, “When you die I hope you go to heaven and I’m up there and I’ll meet you at that gate. I’ll show you what that (damn) sports writing’s about. And Carol was saying, ‘Be nice, be nice.’ ”

Truth is when Waddy got up here in ’99 we just went to the Stadium Bar. Closed the placed down. Or maybe it was the Lindell AC. Can’t recall. Alex Karras was always partial to the Lindell.

Yale Lary joined us a short time ago. Chris — that’s Jack Christiansen to ya’ll who don’t know — is up here. Tell you what. We’ve got one hell of a team up here. Oops. Sorry ’bout that, St. Pete. Guess I’m not supposed to use that word ’round these parts.

We’ve got Briggs Stadium up here, too. Now, don’t go tellin’ anybody this, but sometimes we practice down there in Detroit at that whizbang facility they got. The team put up some real nice 8-foot tall portraits of me, Yale and Chris in the hallway of their headquarters. Sometimes, at night, we jump off that wall and throw the ball around. Just some regular pigskin poltergeists.

Heard a young fella from the Free Press was going around asking questions about our ’57 team recently. Smart, good-looking, great writer. Maybe you’ve heard of him. I listened in and heard some the youngsters talking about us. Sure was nice what they said.

More:Is Curse of Bobby Layne real? 1957 Detroit Lions say team's jinxed

Left tackle Lomas Brown was helping out at the Capuchin Soup Kitchen in Detroit when he got a gander at one of those ’57 championship rings. He tried it on and only got it halfway down his meaty digit.

“That’s all I’ve been hearing about since I got here in ’85: the ’57s, the ’50 teams, because that was the last team that won here,” Brown said. “So we know the tradition. At least I know the tradition of those teams, as far as how good they were for a sustained period of time.

“And just to see that (ring), to me it was remarkable because I like to study the history of what I’ve done or organizations that I’ve been involved with. So to see that ’57 ring, it was awesome.”

That long snapper kid they’ve got, Don Muhlbach, said he think about us every home game.

“I see it every Sunday when we do the national anthem,” Muhlbach said. “I look up at the flag and there are the (championship) banners.”

That Muhl’s a good one, even if he did have the misfortune of playing for Texas A&M and not the Longhorns.

Kicker Jason Hanson said he got an appreciation for our ’50s teams when he saw how fans revered us.

“That was an era when they were great,” he said. “I remember noticing just how people were really into them because they were special.”

Jason Hanson played 21 seasons for the Lions. He’s fourth in NFL scoring with 2,150 points. Three kickers are in the Hall of Fame.

1957 Detroit Lions:What happened each game during championship season

Then something else happened. It was weird. Brown and Hanson’s appreciation turned into envy.

“For me,” Brown said, “the embarrassing thing as alumni is at the Green Bay game last year, the game we played here, all the highlights were in black and white. And as alumni, that hurts you to see that the only thing they were showing were highlights from the ’50s. We really want the tradition to change.”

Hanson also looked back and shook his head. He said winning — when it finally happens — will cure everything.

“Well, it is disappointing as a player to realize how long ago it was they were the elite,” Hanson said. “When I spoke that, it was just to be honest. Because we all know this is world class. … 

“But it’s the product on the field that we’re here to see. So yeah, it’s disappointing for everybody to realize that man, (there are only) black-and-white photos to look at when the Lions were great. Again, I say that because I know that everyone I’ve worked with cares. So it’s not a slight on anybody. It’s a shared disappointment of players and people involved.”

Now I feel kinda bad for jinxing the Lions all this time. I feel bad for whispering in Milt Plum’s ear to pass against the Packers on Thanksgiving in ’62 because I knew Terry Barr would trip. I regret blinding Herman Moore with the Silverdome lights in the 2000 season finale against the Bears. I’m sorry I drove Bobby Ross crazy and chased away Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson. I’m truly sorry for making the Lions go 0-16. Like I said, I had a temper.

So, let’s get past it already. Whaddya say, Lions? It’s coming up on 60 years. We’re all up here waiting for you to win. We’ll be watching from the hallway and from the rafters. And when you finally do win, here’s my promise: First round’s on me at the Stadium Bar. Or the Lindell. Take your pick.

1957 Detroit Lions:Meet the championship roster; where are they now?

Contact Carlos Monarrez: Follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.


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