Detroit Lions Only NFL Team With This Weird Historical Nugget
If the NFL is gonna be weird this year, why not look at what's weird about the Detroit Lions?
The Detroit Lions are one of the NFL's most storied teams, for better or worse. Though the team has a handful of NFL Championships, since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger, the franchise has just one playoff win. Still, in its now 90-year history in Detroit, the franchise has rostered some of the NFL's greatest players ever.
When that's the case, oftentimes NFL teams retire those great players' jersey numbers.
The Lions have retired six different jersey numbers over the years, far from the most in the NFL.
No. 7 was retired for Dutch Clark, one of the Lions' first truly great players. Clark was a great tailback who also threw the ball on occasion.
No. 22 was retired for Bobby Layne, one of the NFL's first true dropback quarterbacks. He won three championships with the Lions, two as a starter.
No. 37 was retired for Doak Walker, another Hall of Famer who was one of the most electrifying tailbacks the NFL had seen in its early days
No. 56 was retired for Joe Schmidt, a Hall of Fame linebacker in Detroit for 13 seasons, beginning his career during the championship seasons of the mid-1950s.
At this point, you're probably noticing the number that I haven't listed. It is No. 20. You probably thought, especially if you're a younger Detroit Lions fan, that number was retired for Barry Sanders. And it was. But not just for Sanders.
The weird historical nugget? The Detroit Lions are the only NFL franchise to retire the same jersey number for three different players.
Within quick succession of each other, Hall of Fame cornerback Lem Barney, running back Billy Sims and the greatest Detroit Lion in franchise history, Barry Sanders, all wore the No. 20. From 1967 to 1998, with the exception of eight seasons, often the best player on the Lions roster wore number 20.
In 2004, the Detroit Lions retired the No. 20 for good on behalf of all three players.
Barney finished his career with 56 interceptions, which was tied for sixth all-time in the NFL at the time of his retirement and 18th today. His 11 non-offensive touchdowns were good for third in NFL history at the time of his retirement, 14th today. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1992.
Billy Sims is the Detroit Lions' second all-time leading rusher with 5,106 yards. Sims suffered a knee injury during the 1984 season that ended his career. Sims only had five years in Detroit, but he was prolific with each handoff.
Five years after Sims's injury, the Detroit Lions drafted Barry Sanders, who would only go on to be arguably the greatest running back in NFL history and the best player in franchise history. Had Sanders played another season, he'd likely been the NFL's all-time rushing leader for a period of time. Nonetheless, he earned his Hall of Fame jacket and bust in 2004.