MIKE O'HARA

O'HARA: Top duos in Lions history 2.0

Posted Jul 3, 2017

Mike O'Hara reprises his picks for the top duos in Lions history, adding two alternate picks in each decade who deserved strong consideration.

If polls and top 10s and variations of both aren’t No. 1 on the list of the American fan’s favorite sports lists, they surely rank close to the top.

So does second-guessing, which is part of the game – and fair game.

In a recent column I made my picks for the Detroit Lions’ top duos of each decade from 1950-59 through 2010-present. With a limit of two per decade – and a total of 14 players -- a lot of great players were left off, including Hall of Famers.

As I wrote in the column, “feel free to disagree,” and many readers did. Personally, some of my favorite players in franchise history didn’t make my list.

I’m reprising my picks in this column – with no apologies or reversals – and adding two alternate picks in each decade who deserved strong consideration but did not make the cut for reasons I specify in the bottom line.

One rule remains in place. The duos do not have to be on the same unit, offense or defense.

And as always, feel free to disagree – again.

(Note: HOF signifies a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.)

1950-59

My picks: QB Bobby Layne (HOF), MLB Joe Schmidt (HOF).

Alternate picks:

S Jack Christiansen (HOF): A Lion from 1951-58, he starred on all three championship teams and would have been considered a speedster in any era. He intercepted 46 passes in 89 games and on punt returns averaged 19.1 yards with four TDs as a rookie and 21.5 yards with two TDs in 1952.

OL Lou Creekmur (HOF): A Lion from 1950-59, Creekmur made the Pro Bowl his first eight seasons – the first two at left guard and the next six at left tackle.

Bottom line: Layne and Schmidt are franchise icons who should have two spots on anyone’s Detroit Lions Mount Rushmore.

1960-69

My picks: CB Dick Night Train Lane (HOF), CB Dick LeBeau (HOF).

Alternate picks:

DT Roger Brown: A Lion for the first seven of his 10 pro seasons, Brown was big and athletic. He could stuff the run and rush the passer. In the 1962 win over the Green Bay Packers the play-by-play credited Brown with being in on seven sacks of Packers QB Bart Starr. Brown made five Pro Bowls as a Lion.

DT Alex Karras: A Lion for his 11 pro seasons (1959-70), Karras missed one season because of a suspension by the NFL for gambling. The NFL did not recognize sacks as an official stat until 1982. However, research by John Turney of Pro Football Journal credits Karras with 105 sacks, which would make him No. 2 all time to Vikings Hall of Famer Alan Page among pure defensive tackles.

Bottom line: The Hall of Fame for Lane and LeBeau trumps Pro Bowls.

1970-79

My picks: CB Lem Barney (HOF), TE Charlie Sanders (HOF).

Alternate picks:

QB Greg Landry: He led the 1970 playoff drive with a 5-1 record in the stretch and made the Pro Bowl in 1971. Landry had a won-loss record of 20-12 with three ties from 1970-72 and was a strong runner before injuries and a deteriorating roster took a toll on him and the team. He was traded after the 1978 season.

DE Bubba Baker: A personal favorite, Baker broke in as a rookie in 1978 with 23 sacks and added 16 in 1979. He played only three more seasons in Detroit before departing in a trade in 1983 because of a clash with the front office over his contract. His stay in Detroit was short and brilliant.

Bottom line: Barney and Sanders were Hall of Famers and the stars of their decade.

1980-89

My picks: RB Billy Sims, DT Doug English.

Alternate picks:

Kicker Ed Murray: A Lion for the first 12 of his 20 NFL seasons, Murray was the Pro Bowl MVP as a rookie in the 1980 season and made a second Pro Bowl in 1989.

DE/LB Mike Cofer: A superior athlete, Cofer was a steal as a third-round draft pick in 1983. He was athletic and versatile. On one memorable defensive series, Cofer lined up at all three linebacker spots – left, right and middle – and sacked the quarterback at each position on all three plays. It was a majestic three and out.

Bottom line: Sims and English were outstanding players in their own right and clear choices in a bleak decade. Murray and Cofer stood out in a decade when the Lions began a rebuild that would pay off in the 1990s.

1990-99

My picks: RB Barry Sanders (HOF), WR Herman Moore.

Alternate picks:

OT Lomas Brown: A six-time Pro Bowler for the Lions (1990-95) and a natural pass protector at left tackle. Brown played 11 of his 18 pro seasons in Detroit and deserves more attention as a borderline Hall of Fame candidate.

LB Chris Spielman: A steady star and defensive leader, Spielman spent his first eight seasons with the Lions and made three of his four Pro Bowls in the decade.

Bottom line: The Lions made the playoffs six times from 1991-99 with a roster stocked with Pro Bowl players. Sanders was an all-time great who needs no explanation, and Moore was an elite record-setting receiver.

2000-09

My picks: CB Dre Bly, kicker Jason Hanson.

Alternate picks:

OT Jeff Backus, C Dominic Raiola: Few players got less out of more than these two warriors on the offensive line. They were drafted 1-2 in 2001. Backus started 191 of 192 games, missing one game, in a 12-year career. Raiola missed five games in 14 years, starting all but the first 16 of his rookie year. If there ever is a Hall of Fame for persevering through adversity with little reward, these two would be high on the list of deserving candidates for how they showed up to play every week.

Bottom line: Bly was a ball hawk who made two Pro Bowls. Hanson continued to provide steady excellence as Murray’s successor. The highlight of the decade was drafting Calvin Johnson in 2007.

2010-present

My picks: QB Matthew Stafford, WR Calvin Johnson.

Alternate picks:

DT Ndamukong Suh: A dominating, relentless, physical presence for five seasons (2010-14) before signing with the Dolphins as a free agent in 2015.

WR Golden Tate: Productive, consistent and available in three seasons as a Lion, Tate is one of two receivers in franchise history along with Herman Moore to have 90 or more catches three straight years.

Bottom line: Suh easily could have been one of the two picks for the decade, but a franchise quarterback should top any list, and Johnson was the most dominant player at his position for at least half the decade.