Detroit Lions – The Great #20

The Lions were one of the NFL’s best during the 1950s, winning championships in 1952, 1953, and 1957. The teams were led by the great Bobby Layne, who was under center in ’52 and ’53. Layne missed the ’57 title game with a broken ankle and Tobin Rote filled in as the Lions won their last championship. Layne the star of the league way back then, is considered one of the greatest Lions ever. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967, and his #22 has been retired by Detroit. In 2004 the Lions retired #20, honoring three of the greatest players in franchise history.

Detroit Lions – The Great #20

Lem Barney

Lem Barney was selected by the Lions in the with the 34th pick of the 1967 draft. On the first pass thrown his way, he picked off Bart Starr and returned it 24 yards for a touchdown, a sign of things to come. Barney intercepted 10 passes his rookie year and returned three of them for touchdowns, was named the Defensive Rookie of the Year, and was selected to the Pro Bowl. Barney made the Pro Bowl seven times during his tenure and made the All-NFL team twice. He picked off 56 passes in his 11 years with the Lions. Not only did Barney excel as a defensive back, he was a dynamic as a kick and punt returner. The versatile Barney was the Lions punter in 1967 and 1969. Truly an all-time great.

Billy Sims

Billy Sims was selected by the Lions with the first pick in the 1980 draft. Just like Barney, Sims got off to a fantastic start, rushing for 153 yards and three touchdowns, and catching two passes for another 64 yards in his debut. Sims rushed for 1,303 yards and 13 touchdowns during his rookie year and had 621 yards receiving with three touchdown catches. His 16 touchdowns led the league and Sims was named the Offensive Rookie of the Year.

He had another monster year in 1981, with 1,888 yards from scrimmage and 15 touchdowns. He was selected to the Pro Bowl in his first three seasons in the league. In the eighth game of the 1984 season, Sims’ career came to an end. He suffered a knee injury in Minnesota and retired 21 months later without playing another game. One of Sims’ greatest highlights was his karate kick run against the Oilers. Sims had a rare combination of speed, power, and balance and it’s a shame that his career ended so soon. One wonders what could have been and Sims deserves his place among the Lions greats.

Barry Sanders

Selected third overall in the 1983 draft, Barry Sanders was one of the greatest players in the history of the NFL, certainly the greatest to ever wear the Honolulu blue and silver. He rushed for 1,470 yards and 14 touchdowns in his first season, was named the Offensive Rookie of the Year, was selected to the Pro Bowl, and made the All-Pro team. It was a sign of things to come.

Sanders’ resume for his 10-year career is impressive. He was a six-time All-Pro, selected to the Pro Bowl 10 times, the 1997 NFL MVP, and two-time winner of the NFL Offensive Player of the Year. Sanders rushed for 15,269 yards — that’s 8.7 miles — and 99 touchdowns, with another 10 receiving. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004.

While a superstar, Sanders was humble. Nowadays there are some wild celebrations when a touchdown is scored. Barry Sanders never celebrated — he never even spiked the ball — he simply gave the ball to the referee every time he scored. When asked why, he replied, “I did not want to look as if I had never been in the end zone before, and as if I would never be there again.” On October 15, 1998, Barry Sanders scored on a 73-yard touchdown run, the last time he would ever be in the end zone.

Main Image: H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY, USA TODAY via Imagn Content Services, LLC

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