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Packers-Lions History: Green Bay Trails 42-38-3 as Visiting Team

We look exclusively at the games played in Detroit between these two NFC North rivals in this week's history lesson.

Not pictured: Ndamukong Suh stomping on Evan Dietrich-Smith
Not pictured: Ndamukong Suh stomping on Evan Dietrich-Smith
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

It's Tuesday again, and that means it's time for my latest series history post. And with this post, we enter divisional series history posts for the first time in 2014. Those of you familiar with my posts will remember I break up the divisional games into games played in the opponent's hometown and games played in Green Bay and Milwaukee. This time, we focus on the games in Detroit.

The Lions lead the series in the Motor City by the count of 42-38-3. This series actually started not in Detroit, but in Portsmouth, Ohio. The Spartans (who would become the Lions prior to the 1934 season) tied the first game with the Packers in Ohio and then defeated the Packers twice.

For 1934, the series shifted to Detroit, and it became the Packers who generally won the games played there. Green Bay won 12 of the first 14 games they played against the Lions in Detroit, and quite a few of these (including the 50-7 thrashing of the Lions in 1940) were not even close.

The Packers finally faded in the 1948 season, just as the Lions became one of the NFL's elite teams. The series in Detroit reflected this, with the Lions subsequently winning 10 of the next 11 matchups in Michigan. This sequence also saw the beginning of the Packers-Lions Thanksgiving games, with Green Bay becoming Detroit's regular opponent on the holiday. The Packers would face the Lions in Detroit every year from 1951-1963.

Under Vince Lombardi, the Packers posted a 6-2-1 record in Detroit. One of those two losses, however, cost the Packers a perfect season in 1962. The Lions sacked Bart Starr 10 times en route to a 26-14 Thanksgiving Day victory over the Packers. Lombardi then insisted that the NFL schedule someone else on Thanksgiving in Detroit, and after a 13-13 tie in 1963, the Packers would not play in Detroit on Thanksgiving again until the mid-1980s.

From 1970 onward, Detroit became a house of horrors for the Packers once again, with Green Bay posting a 9-22 record in the Motor City from then until the 2000 season. Much of this had to do with the Packers being among the NFL's perennial doormats for two of those decades, but the Lions weren't an especially bad team in those years, playing mostly .500 football and earning playoff berths in 1970, 1982, and 1983.

In 1986, wide receiver Walter Stanley had his best day as a pro, scoring the winning touchdown on a punt return as the Packers won in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day, 44-40. It was their first Thanksgiving Day triumph since 1961.

Even the arrival of Brett Favre did not change the Packers' luck in Detroit, as the Pontiac Silverdome was one of his houses of horrors. The Packers would win the 1992 and 1996 regular season matchups (the 1996 game featured a largely pro-Packers crowd and caused the Lions to change their ticket policies), but the Packers did win the one playoff game between the teams there. In a back-and-forth game, Favre hit wide receiver Sterling Sharpe with a 55-yard touchdown pass with less than a minute remaining as Green Bay won 28-24.

The Lions fell into the NFL's basement in 2001 and would remain there for many years, until the 2011 season. The series in Detroit, perhaps not surprisingly, shifted back in Green Bay's favor. The Packers would win nine of twelve games in Detroit as a result, including the 2001, 2007, and 2009 Thanksgiving Day games. Many of these games were well known throughout the NFL for various reasons:

  • In 2002, the Packers opened up the Lions' new stadium, Ford Field, by defeating the Lions 37-31.
  • The 2003 game, a 22-14 win by Detroit, would be the Lions' last win on Thanksgiving until 2013, when they again defeated the Packers 40-10.
  • The 2007 game featured Brett Favre completing 20 consecutive passes in a row on Thanksgiving as the Packers won 37-26.
  • The 2008 game saw the Packers (Charles Woodson and Nick Collins) run two interceptions back for touchdowns in the closing minutes as Green Bay pulled away for a 48-25 win.
  • The 2009 game featured another pick-six by Charles Woodson as the Packers won 34-12.

The 2011 Thanksgiving game would become infamous for Ndamukong Suh stomping on the arm of the Packers' Evan Dietrich-Smith. The Lions subsequently imploded and the Packers would win 27-15.

Green Bay's dominance in Detroit came to a crashing end in 2013. With the Green Bay offense limited due to Aaron Rodgers' collarbone injury, Matt Flynn got his first start as a Packer since 2011, and the Lions routed Green Bay 40-10. The Packers would, however, get the last laugh, winning the division championship in Chicago in the final week of the season (more on this next week) while the Lions lost their last four games and went home for the season in third place in the NFC North.

What are your memories of the Packers facing the Lions in Detroit?