MIKE O'HARA

O'Hara: Eddie Murray's 'real team' will always be the Detroit Lions

Posted Jan 31, 2013

Kicker Eddie Murray spent his first 12 seasons with the Detroit Lions before playing for six teams in nine years and winning a Super Bowl with the Dallas Cowboys

Eddie MurrayEddie Murray’s travels took him to the heights and depths and every stop in between in an NFL career that spanned 21 years.

The stickers on his travel bag are a testament to the life of a kicker. If you can make field goals, you can kick for some team somewhere at any age and retire with a storehouse of accomplishments and great memories.

Detroit was the starting point of Murray’s career. He arrived in town in 1980 as a 24-year-old rookie, drafted by the Lions in the seventh round out of Tulane.

He was the Lions’ kicker for his first 12 NFL seasons. His career ended in 2000, at age 44 and in his second tour with the Washington Redskins. They signed him for the last six games in a desperate bid to make the playoffs as a wild card.

The Redskins were Murray’s seventh and last team, and he was able to walk away from the game with no regrets except one.

One element was missing in the crowning moment of his career, when he kicked for the 1993 Dallas Cowboys team that won its second straight Super Bowl. Murray was a vital addition to the Cowboys, who lost their first two games with Emmitt Smith holding out in a contract dispute and their kicking game in disarray.

Smith and Murray signed and reported the same day, and the talent-laden Cowboys promptly went on a seven-game winning streak.

The 1993 season was a sports experience of a lifetime for Murray.

The Cowboys were bold, brash and good. He picked a perfect time to have the best season of his career, making 27-of-32 field goal attempts in the regular season and all six in the playoffs. He booted three field goals in the Cowboys’ 30-13 win over Buffalo in Super Bowl XXVIII.

As the final seconds ticked off the game clock at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Murray was almost overwhelmed by the reality of what he had accomplished. He spotted his wife, Cindy, sitting in the stands as he felt the satisfying emotion of being part of a team that had some of the NFL’s biggest stars.

“It was very surreal,” Murray said the other day. “It also said to me, 'Now I know why I was so hard on myself – what I really wanted to win.'

“Now I got that chance. It meant everything and more, all the work I put in prior to that time.”

The one regret over winning a championship had nothing to do with personal performance or his feeling about the Cowboys.

The only thing that would make it sweeter would have been winning a Super Bowl with the Detroit Lions.

The Lions were more than Murray’s first team. They’ve been his real team. He never moved out of Metro Detroit after coming here as a rookie and never lost his connection with the franchise.

Whenever he wears his diamond encrusted championship ring, as he does often in his job with Great Lakes Wire and Cable, he wishes he had one that said "DETROIT LIONS."

“Absolutely, with no hesitation,” Murray said ... with no hesitation. “My ring’s a big talking point when I go into a business meeting. I can tell you with complete honesty, every time someone tells me how great it was, I wish that 'DETROIT LIONS' was on this ring.”

As a city, Detroit has hosted the Super Bowl twice – Super Bowl XVI at the Pontiac Silverdome, and Super Bowl XL at Ford Field in Detroit – but the Lions have never played in the game. They were a dominant franchise in the pre-Super Bowl era, winning three NFL championships in the 1950s.

The Lions got close to the Super Bowl once. The 1991 Lions made it to the NFC Championship, where they lost to the Redskins, 41-10. The Redskins went on to crush Buffalo in the Super Bowl.

Ironically, the 1991 season was Murray’s last as a Lion. In the 1992 draft, they took Jason Hanson in the second round. Hanson just completed his 21st season as a kicker, giving the Lions an unmatched 33-year chain – from 1980 through last season – of two full-time kickers.

After leaving the Lions, Murray hit the kicking merry-go-round. He played all or parts of eight seasaons in nine years, sitting out the 1998 season, and kicked for six teams. He had two tours each with the Cowboys and Redskins.

Murray’s connection and passion for the Lions never waned. It burns as hot as ever these days in a new role as a board member of the Detroit Lions Alumni Assn. Charlie Sanders and Joe Schmidt, two of the franchise’s all-time greats, serve as co-presidents.

The Detroit Lions are strengthening the alumni association and broadening its reach to welcome former players back and make them a stronger and perpetuating part of the franchise’s present and future, along with a touchstone to its history.

“I know I was honored to be asked to be on the board,” Murray said. “There can only be positive things to come from this, for existing alumni and future alumni.

“It gives them somewhere to go and say, ‘Hey, I put some time into this organization, whether it’s a year or it’s 10 years. They recognize and appreciate the efforts I put in for however long I was a Detroit Lion.”

Murray was part of so many dramatic moments as a Lion – and in his Super Bowl season in Dallas – that it’s impossible to single one out as most memorable.

As a rookie in 1980, he was a participant in the greatest debut in franchise history.

On opening day, Billy Sims, drafted first-overall by the Lions, exploded for 153 yards rushing and three touchdowns in the Lions’ 41-20 road win over the Rams.

Sims and Murray both made the Pro Bowl that season, and Murray was voted the game’s MVP for kicking five field goals.

In 1981, Murray kicked a last-play field goal to beat the Cowboys. The game was more memorable for the fact that the Lions had 12 players on the field when Murray made the kick.

A hazard of being a kicker is that nobody makes them all. Murray came close twice, though. In back-to-back seasons of 1988-89, he made 20 of 21 both years.

His most memorable miss was in a playoff loss at San Francisco in 1983, when a 43-yard attempt drifted wide right, letting the 49ers escape with a 24-23 win after being outplayed most of the game.

It was typical of Murray that he stood at his locker and answered every question from the local and national media covering the game. He lamented that “a little San Francisco wind” couldn’t bring the ball back between the uprights.

Murray went out kicking in Detroit in 1991. In the last game of the regular season, Murray made an overtime field goal to beat Buffalo and give the Lions a first-round playoff bye and home-field advantage over the Cowboys in the divisional round.

The Silverdome was a giant party pit that day, and the Cowboys must have felt like they were thrown into the pit to mosh with real lions.

It was no contest - a 38-6 Lions victory. The memory of that game, and the roar of the crowd, still rings in Murray’s memory banks.

“That playoff game against the Cowboys, I never in life have been in a stadium that was that fired up and that exciting,” Murray said. “I just wish that the Lions could feed off that or get that back again, or have something where the fans could go crazy like they did in that game.

“I know that feeling. It’s just unbelievable.”