Detroit Lions Add to Strange But True Overtime History

By Timothy Holland

The Detroit Lions 44-41 overtime loss to the Tennessee Titans Sunday proved once again that they are the kings of NFL strange but true overtime games. From giving up a kickoff on the opening play to miscommunication on a coin toss to kicking off and taking the wind to going for it on fourth down on their opponent’s seven yard line the Lions have had their share of crazy thing happen in extra time. Sunday’s final play should not have been a surprise to anyone who follows the team.

In 1980 the Lions played the Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving Day. Chicago tied the score at 17 on a run by quarterback Vince Evans as time ran out. The Bears won the coin toss and elected to receive the overtime kickoff. Dave Williams took the kick on his own five yard line and raced 95 yards to win the shortest overtime game to that point.

In 1998 the Lions hosted the Pittsburgh Steelers in a Thanksgiving Day game. At the end of regulation the score was tied at 16. When the captains reported to midfield for the coin toss Steelers captain Jerome Bettis called ‘Tails.’ However referee Phil Luckett said that Bettis called, ‘Heads.’ The Steelers protested, but to no avail. Despite the fact that a national television audience heard Bettis say tails the Lions won the toss and elected to receive. Detroit promptly went down field, kicked a field goal and won the game.

After the game Luckett became a household name as the referee who screwed up the coin toss. In truth, Luckett got the call right as Bettis can clearly be heard in replays saying, ‘Head, Tails.’ Luckett went with the first call as he should have.

In 2002 the Lions were on the road matched up against the Bears at Soldier Field. This game went into overtime tied at 17. Lions head coach Marty Mornhinweg decided that if his team won the toss instead of taking the ball they would choose which goal to defend. There was a strong wind blowing that day and Mornhinweg figured if he could get it at Detroit’s back and hold the Bears then the Lions could kick a field goal and win.

Needless to say the plan backfired. Chicago took the ball went down field and kicked a field goal to win. Mornhinweg looked like a fool, but he was not the first coach to make the decision to kick in overtime. Hank Stram of the Dallas Texans had done the same in the 1962 AFL championship game. Fortunately his decision worked and the Texans were able to hold the Houston Oilers and win the game 20-17.

Then we have Sunday. In their first overtime game under the new rules, Detroit knew that they would get the ball back if they stopped Tennessee from scoring more than a field goal. The Titans did kick a field goal to take the lead. Detroit drove down to the Tennessee seven yard line where they had fourth and one. The logical decision would have been to extend the game by trying a tying field goal. Lions quarterback Shaun Hill tried a quarterback sneak to get a first down. Tennessee stopped him and the game was over.

Afterward head coach Jim Schwartz said it was miscommunication which led to the final play. The Lions were not supposed to snap the ball, but try and draw Tennessee offside. The half the distance to the goal line penalty would have given Detroit a first down on the 3 yard line. Then the team would have taken their shots at the end zone. If the Titans didn’t jump then Detroit would simply kick the field goal.

Unfortunately for Lions fans it was Detroit that shot themselves in the foot not Tennessee.

And Sunday’s game could be added to the list of strange but true Lions overtime games.

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