MIKE O'HARA

Dorne Dibble made his mark as a two-way player in the 1950's

Posted Apr 14, 2013

Dibble split his duties on the football field and in the military, and also as a wide receiver and defensive back, playing during six winning seasons and in three championships from 1951-58

Dorne DibbleDB/WR Dorne Dibble
Dorne Dibble had a promising rookie season with the Lions in 1951. The Lions were on the rise, with a 7-4-1 record that put them in a tie with San Francisco for second place in the NFL’s National Conference, a half game behind the Los Angeles Rams.

Dibble made his mark as a two-way player – defensive back and wide receiver. He was second on the team with 30 receptions, first with 613 receiving yards and a 20.4-yard average per catch, and second with six touchdown catches.

He even intercepted a pass.

The 1952 season was even more memorable. The Lions won what had become the Western Conference with a 9-3 record and beat the Rams, 31-21, in a playoff game.

On Dec. 28, the Lions won the NFL Championship with a 17-7 victory over the powerful Cleveland Browns at Briggs Stadium.

It was a date to remember, and not just because the Lions won a championship. Dibble’s first child, Lori Dibble Anderson, was born the day of the game.

Dibble’s duties kept him from being present for Lori’s birth. Those same duties kept him from playing in the championship game.

Dibble had changed teams and uniforms after his rookie year. He was an Air Force officer in 1952, stationed at Bolling Air Base in Washington D.C.

“I had a car and a radio, and I was in officer’s club watching the game,” Dibble recalled the other day.

He also was waiting for a telephone call from home about his daughter’s birth.

“They kept me up to date,” he said, laughing at the memory.

Even with the break for military service, Dibble had a good, productive career with the Lions, playing six seasons in a seven-year span. He missed out on one championship because of his 1952 service commitment, but he won two others with the Lions in 1953 and ’57.

It was a different era 60 years ago. Football was different, and so was military service.

Dibble was a star athlete growing up in Adrian. He went to Michigan State, where he took ROTC. After graduation, Dibble owed the Air Force a two-year commitment of active duty.

He went in after the 1951 season and wound up serving a little more than 17 months. Although the Korean War didn’t official end until July 27, 1953, much of the major fighting was over.

Because of troop reductions, Dibble was given an early release – just in time to report to training camp in 1953.

There are no regrets – then or now – over having his pro career interrupted by a hitch in the service.

“I made some good friends,” Dibble said. “It was good for me. Everybody should spend at least a year in the service.”

Dibble, now 83 and living in Northville, keeps close tabs on the current Lions.

He was an honored guest at Tuesday night's Town Hall event at Ford Field.

As a player, he fit in with a group of Lion receivers who were ahead of their time in terms of size. Dibble was 6-2, 190 pounds, and he wasn’t the biggest receiver on the team. Cloyce Box, a dynamic deep threat, was 6-4. Jim Doran, one of the heroes of the storied 1957 team because of his clutch catches, was 6-2.

The Lions were a dominant team in the 1950s, and Dibble played with some of the game’s all-time legends – Bobby Layne, Doak Walker, Joe Schmidt and Jack Christensen to name a handful.

They were great players, and great teammates, with a camaraderie and togetherness that Dibble thinks helped them remain good for an extended period. From 1951 through ’57, the Lions had six winning seasons, won three championships and lost to the Browns in a fourth championship game.

Layne was the leader, and Dibble remembers how Layne had to get used to his upbeat nature.

“It was great, as long as you caught the ball,” Dibble said of playing with Layne. “I used to smile at everything I did. If I caught one, I smiled. If I dropped one, I smiled. It bothered him at first. Then he realized what my personality was.

“He was a real leader. Patton could have learned some lessons from him. That was the kind of leader he was. Everybody would do what he asked them to do.”

In his six seasons as Lion, Dibble caught 146 passes, with a 17.5-yard average per catch and 19 TDs. His best season was 1954, with 46 catches, six TDs and an average of 16.7 yards per catch. He was sixth in the league in receptions that season. In three of his six seasons he finished in the top 10 in receiving yards.

There are so many good memories from his career that it’s hard for Dibble to separate them. A collective memory is the team’s closeness, including Buddy Parker, the legendary head coach who retired on the eve of the 1957 season and was succeeded by George Wilson.

“When the game was over, we all went out together,” Dibble said. “That's why we won. Actually, when we were on the road, after the game, there was always a party, just beer and cold cuts before we got on the plane.

“And that was Buddy. He wanted everybody to be together. We knew everybody’s problems. And we knew everything about all their good times.”

Dibble was an engineering major at Michigan State, and he put his degree to work. He worked for a die-making company in the offseason.

Before the 1958 season, Dibble was told that he’d been traded to the Giants. He had a decision to make – move to New York, or remain in Detroit and continue working at a job that paid a lot more than he made playing football.

Dibble chose to remain in Detroit and work, thus ending his career. He later became a manufacturer’s representative.

At his home in Northville, Dibble has a picture of his old team. One glance at the picture brings back memories of his teammates and the big games they played and won.

He won two championship rings, and he frequently wears the one from the 1953 game.

“There aren’t many of them out there,” he said. “There are always people who recognize it.

“The older you get, the more you appreciate it.”