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Packers-Lions Series History: Games in Detroit (Part 1 of 3)

A brief rundown of the series history between the Packers and Lions, limited to games played in Detroit.

Gregory Shamus

It is Tuesday, and you know what that means. It is time for another Packers series history report. Today's report is about the Packers and Lions, but it regards and will only talk about the games played in Detroit. As you can see from the title, there will be two other parts to this series. These will be posted before the Packers-Lions game at Lambeau Field in December. Here's how those other two parts will break down (they will become active links once I write those pieces):

Part 2: Games in Green Bay and Milwaukee.

Part 3: General series overview.

And now, without further ado, let's get into this post. Currently, the Lions hold a 41-37-3 series edge in Detroit. Here is how it breaks down:

The Detroit Lions started as the Portsmouth Spartans in the 1930 season. In that season, the Spartans and Packers played to a 6-6 tie in Portsmouth. The Spartans prevailed twice again in Ohio before moving to Detroit for the 1934 NFL season.

The Packers won their first road game against the Detroit Lions by the score of 3-0. In 1935, the Lions, one of the NFL's best teams, won 20-10 on their way to their first NFL championship. But for most of the rest of the 1930s and 1940s, the Lions slowly sank into obscurity while the Packers were among the NFL's elite. Starting in 1936, the Packers won 11 of 12 games in Detroit. Most of these games were not close, and some (such as the 50-7 decimation of the Lions in 1940) occurred after the Lions had already won the game in Green Bay earlier in the season.

By 1948, the Packers were finally fading into the bottom rung of the NFL. The Lions subsequently won 10 of the 11 games in Detroit from 1948-1958. Again, most of these games were not close. The only Packers win in this stretch was the 1956 game, which was a major upset. The 1951 season also saw the first ever Packers-Lions Thanksgiving day game, and every game in Detroit between the Packers and Lions from 1951-1963 was played on Thanksgiving. As a result, the Packers are the Lions' most frequent opponent on Thanksgiving, and Green Bay has played in Detroit nearly 20 times over the years on the holiday.

In 1959, Vince Lombardi arrived. The teams traded wins in Detroit up until the 1963 season, when they tied 13-13. The 1962 game has the distinction of being the only game the Packers lost that season. Green Bay entered its Thanksgiving game 10-0, but the Lions put Bart Starr on the turf again and again, and Detroit eventually won 26-14. Afterward, Lombardi said it was a coaching loss and he was responsible, but he then began asking the NFL to put another team to play the Lions on Thanksgiving. As a result, the Packers' yearly Thanksgiving game in Detroit went on hold for the 1964 season and the series between the teams on Thanksgiving did not resume for 20 years.

The Packers won five of six games in Detroit after being taken off the yearly Thanksgiving day matchup (the only game that was not a Packers victory was a 14-14 tie in Detroit in 1968). Starting in 1970, however, the Packers began a long fall into the depths of the NFL which culminated in the 1991 season. In fact, during this stretch, the Lions held a 15-7 series edge in Detroit.

The 20-0 Lions win in Detroit ended Phil Bengston's brief tenure as head coach in 1970. Although the Packers won the 1972 game, the Lions kept winning most of the games in Detroit up until the 1978 season, when the Packers won 13-7 to start the season. The result was a little surprising at the time, but the Lions didn't turn out to be much in 1978, and the Packers collapsed following a 5-2 start to the season. The Packers beat the Lions in Detroit again in 1979, but this was due to the fact that Detroit's offense was stuck in second gear following a preseason injury to Gary Danielson.

The Lions' dominance in Detroit continued. The Packers did manage a three-game win streak in Detroit in the mid-1980s, highlighted by Walter Stanley's electrifying punt return on Thanksgiving in 1986, but Detroit for the most part continued to dominate the series in Michigan. The 1984 and 1986 games were a brief resumption of the Packers-Lions Thanksgiving day series, but this ended after the 1986 season and did not resume for 15 more years.

Even the arrival of Brett Favre in the 1992 season did not change the Packers' fortunes in Detroit much. Although Favre did manage to win his first game in Detroit that year, the Packers continued to slide there in the regular season, posting a 2-7 record until the 2000 season. The Packers did manage to win the 1993 playoff game in Detroit, with Favre hitting Sterling Sharpe in the end zone with a late touchdown pass with less than a minute remaining in a 28-24 Packers victory. But this was among the few Packer highlights in Detroit until the Packers lost 31-24 in 2000.

Since then, the Packers have largely dominated the series in Detroit, and also, in general. Starting with the 2001 game, the Packers have posted an 8-3 record in Detroit. The 2001 season also saw the Packers-Lions Thanksgiving day games resume, and the Packers held on for an uncomfortable 29-27 victory. In 2002, the Lions moved to Ford Field. Their first opponent in their new home was the Packers, and it was Green Bay who won the first game in Ford Field by the score of 37-31.

In 2003, the Lions finally beat the Packers, 22-14. This game has the distinction of being (at present) the last Lions victory on Thanksgiving day. The Packers won in a blowout in 2004, but the 2005 game saw the end of Javon Walker's Packers career after his knee blew out in the first game of the season in Detroit. The Lions won that game, 17-3.

The Packers won the next four in Detroit, including the 2007 and 2009 games on Thanksgiving. In 2010, the Packers had all the momentum in the world, while the Lions were sliding at 2-9. The Lions, however, stunned the Packers 7-3, dealing Green Bay's playoff hopes a blow.

2011 was the most recent game in Detroit, and also the most recent game between the Packers and Lions on Thanksgiving. Just like the 1962 game, the Packers went into this matchup with an unblemished 10-0 record. This game, however, featured what may be the most infamous incident between the Packers and Lions in Detroit in history. After a block caused both Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and Packers offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith to fall into the backfield, Suh slammed Dietrich-Smith's head into the ground several times, and then, as he was leaving the skirmish, stomped on Dietrich-Smith's arm. Suh would be ejected, and later was suspended for two games. The Packers capitalized on the untimely miscue (it occurred just after the Lions had apparently stopped the Packers on third down) by scoring a touchdown as the penalty gave Green Bay a fresh set of downs. The Packers ended up winning, 27-15.

What are your memories of the Packers and Lions playing in Detroit?