The Honolulu Blues of ’62 : The 1962 Detroit Lions
In 1962, I attended my first and only Lions game at old Tiger Stadium. My most vivid memory being that Detroit came from behind and beat the Baltimore Colts. These were the days of the Lions being a contender most years, and only 5 years removed from their last championship in 1957. I was hooked from then on….I was a bonafide, to the death, Lions fan. I would take my Dad’s old teeshirt, write 89 on it and pull over my plastic shoulder pads. As Gail Cogdill, I stretched out to catch diving passes from my friend Greg who pretended to be ole #28 Yale Lary. It didn’t matter that Yale was a defensive back. We were dumb kids. I wish I knew then what I now know and even at the young age of 10, I would have been smart enough to cast my allegiances elsewhere. 1962 was a pivotal year for the Lions as they finished at 11-3…..good enough for a division championship in most years. However, the defending NFL champion Packers finished at 13-1 and went on to claim a 2nd straight NFL title. The Lions finished 2 games behind the immortal Packers of Lombardi, Starr, Hornung and the rest of their dozen or so future HOF’ers. This was the year of the most celebrated Thanksgiving game in Lions’ history. The talking heads blather about that 26-14 demolition of the Packers every year showing the iconic picture of the “fearsome foursome”smothering Bart Starr. That one game prevented the Packers from the first perfect season record in NFL history.
Forgotten to History
These teams met in Green Bay a month earlier, with the Packers coming out on top 9-7. That game was a classic also and a mud-slopping slugfest from start to finish. The Lions led 7-6 with less than 2 minutes to play. The defense had kept the Pack out of the endzone all day. As they left the field after stopping a Packer 4th down desperation play in Green Bay territory, veteran linebacker and captain Joe Schmidt passed quarterback Milt Plum and said, “Don’t throw the goddamn ball, Milt”. Plum (calling his own plays) proceeded to put a 3rd down pass out in the flat toTerry Barr who slipped and fell on the muddy turf. The ball was picked off by Herb Adderley and returned 40 yards. Hornung then kicked the winning field goal to effectively end the game. The Pack rush the field to celebrate while Lions defensive tackle Alex Karras throws his helmet at Plum. This began a ‘defense vs offense’ rift on the team that carried on throughout Plum’s tenure as QB.
Playing out the String
The Turkey day roasting of the Pack was bittersweet revenge for they had lost to the Giants 2 weeks following the 9-7 loss. The third loss was a meaningless 3-0 game on the final Sunday when the team realized it had no chance at the title. Coach George Wilson did all he could to keep a divided locker room together. George himself was a champion, playing on 4 Bears title teams from the 40’s. He rose to the head coaching job with the Lions after Buddy Parker made an ass of himself and quit at the 1957 preseason banquet after hoisting more than a few. Wilson remains the only Lions head coach in the last 50+ years to get another head job in the NFL when he went on to be the first head coach in Dolphin’s history. That ’62 team never trailed by more than 7 points at any time during the season. That record stood for 48 years until the 2010 Packer team pulled it off. The year ended with the Lions vs the Steelers in the Bert Bell Playoff Bowl which was essentially a post season game for 3rd place overall in the league. The purpose for this silly game was to fund the players pension pool. The Lions were the masters of this game for runner-up losers winning the first 3 playoff bowls ever. The Steelers game was notable for a couple reasons. The QB for Pittsburgh was none other than curse slinging Bobby Layne and they were coached by Buddy Parker. The second and probably more notable was that this was the first game in which the Steelers wore their now famous black helmets with the steel logo on the side.
1963 went south from the start. Alex Karras was suspended for the year for gambling on football games. It was also the year of Paper Lion author George Plimpton attending training camp and providing a major distraction. The Lions finished the 63 season with a record of 5-8. A short-lived rebound occurred in ’64, with a 7-5 record, but George Wilson was allowed to walk away after management fired all his assistants claiming the team needed a fresh start. That is the same ‘fresh start’ we are now seeking almost 50 years later. Many Packer historians will tell you the one loss team of ’62 was their greatest ever. Considering the success of that storied franchise that is a bold statement. I say this…….maybe if Milt would have ran that damn ball it would have jump started the future and poor Mr. Ford would have had the title he pursued throughout his ownership…… because in 1962 the HONOLULU BLUE AND SILVER WERE THE BETTER TEAM!
Food for thought…
Is this the first example of the curse of Bobby Layne?
Why do the Lions always come up short?