Bobby Layne was a competent starting quarterback for the once mighty Detroit Lions in the 1950’s, who was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers after enduring a season-ending injury in 1957. As legend would have it, he reportedly cursed the Lions when he left town by declaring they “wouldn’t win another NFL Championship for 50 years.”
Incredibly, the alleged curse held true over the following half-century, and the Lions became one of the worst teams in the NFL while the Steelers became one of the best.
There is a shocking disparity between the success attained by the Lions and the Steelers over the years. Detroit has ONE playoff win since 1958 and NO championships, while the Steelers have 34 playoff wins, and an NFL record SIX championships.
Detroit won three NFL championships in the 1950’s, while the Steelers had never won a playoff game in their 25-year history. As crazy as this now sounds, Pittsburgh was not a desirable place to play professional football back then, hence the bitterness from Layne in the form of the verbal curse when he left the Motor City in the tumultuous trade.
The most compelling and incredible modern day component to this story was the 2009 NFL Draft. Fifty years after the infamous Layne curse, the Detroit Lions drafted a QB by the name of Matthew Stafford with the first-overall pick. The Lions had obtained the pick by going an unfathomable 0-16 in the 2008 season (an NFL record for futility).
Remarkably, Stafford grew up in Dallas and attended the same high school as Bobby Lane (Highland Park) and lived on the same street.
ESPN.com’s Greg Garber spoke with Stafford about this amazing coincidence, “That’s crazy I didn’t even know that?” said Stafford. “People doing the count… That’s crazy. Yeah, I wonder where he lived in Michigan? Maybe I can move to where he was in Michigan.”
According to Stafford’s Highland Park High School coach Randy Allen, the young quarterback would walk by Layne’s shadow every day at Highland Park and wasn’t aware of Layne until just before the ’09 Draft.
“He walked past Bobby Layne’s plaque in the stadium everyday but he didn’t make the connection with the Bobby Layne curse until his mother read an article right before the draft,” said Allen through an email correspondence.
The Lions have recently made trips to the playoffs with Stafford under centre (2011, 2014), and now have a legitimate Pro Bowl quarterback playing a position that they were plagued at for decades. Stafford entered the league at the supposed end of the Layne curse, and is now the biggest hope Detroit has had at that position since Dwight D. Eisenhower was in office.
In a nice little curse sub-plot, Stafford (who is the fastest QB to reach 25,000 passing yards in league history), is poised to pass Bobby Layne for career yardage early in the 2016 season.
It’s an amazing and incredibly fluky coincidence that Layne and Stafford are cosmically intertwined in the lore of the Detroit Lions. Stafford threw a touchdown pass in late 2013, eclipsing Layne for the Lions all-time record in passing yardage. It was Stafford’s 100th touchdown pass and it was accomplished in Pittsburgh.
Layne’s son Alan was interviewed on video by ESPN and shed some light on the ever-present narrative of the curse, “It’s very coincidental. But, a little bit of me believes that there is some truth to it.” Layne shakes his head with a smirk in befuddlement. “It’s pretty strange.”
While Stafford represents hope for the present Lions, Layne’s curse was evidently effective in the past. Upon further historical evaluation, it’s necessary to point out a couple of other negative shadows that have potentially wreaked havoc with the karma of the Lions.
Presently, the Lions are owned by the Ford family.
In the 1930’s, Henry Ford was keen to make some sales and apparently had a vested interest in promoting anti-Semitism, which led to him becoming business pals with the Nazis. Regardless of excuses, missing documents, and a platinum public relations spin job, you can’t escape from the fact that this dark historical connection to the biggest villains of the 20th Century may have played a factor in the team’s karma.
In another dark historical twist, William Clay Ford Sr. obtained the Lions on November 22, 1963, for $4.5 million (US). On that very same day, American president John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.
The universe may have been conspiring against the Lions at that stage, regardless of the Bobby Layne curse.
It’s been a river of sadness for the Lions since Bobby Layne left for Pittsburgh. The team has amassed 38 seasons of .500 or worse results under the Ford regime. They’ve gone 1-11 in playoff games since 1958. The Lions at one point lost 25 straight road games (2010) and became the folly of the entire league. They were mocked in animated shows such as The Simpsons and Family Guy. The Detroit Lions had become a universally accepted punch-line and a whipping post for football failure.
Jane Doherty, a psychic, told NFL Films that, “The curse could have lasted fifty years because it was perpetuated every year. Angry fans, negative fans, are actually contributing a great deal from blocking the team from winning.”
“Let’s take this negative energy and do something positive with it,” said Doherty. “Seeing the Lions go to the Super Bowl, just using the energy of the mind, it’s how you create destiny and visualize these things.”
There have been some glimmers of hope recently with the careers of Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson, but unfortunately the title drought has continued as those legends retired prematurely without rings. With the recent announcement of Johnson’s retirement, there is doubt that the team will win a title in 2016.
Stafford made great strides in the second half of the 2015 season and excelled under new offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, which is potentially a silver lining looking forward as the Lions try and get out of their own way in the upcoming season.
When Stafford’s high school coach was asked if he thought the young pivot and the present Lions had what it took to break the curse he optimistically responded, “I think they have a chance to be successful because I met Jim Caldwell (present Lions coach) this summer, and I was really impressed with him.”
As for Bobby Layne, he died back in 1986. Rumored to have befriended neighbour Mickey Mantle in his later years. Mantle adopted the famous quote from Layne that said, “If I knew I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.”
Stafford is scheduled to pass Layne’s passing record in the first half of the 2016 season. If the Lions go on to win a championship this year, you can rest assured, this won’t be the last time you’ll hear about the ‘Curse Of Bobby Layne’.
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