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O'HARA: Remembering Jim Gibbons and Harry Gilmer

Jim Gibbons and Harry Gilmer are linked for their places on the Detroit Lions' all-time roster of players and coaches, but with different results and tenures in their time with the franchise.

Gibbons was a three-time Pro Bowl tight end whose long game-winning touchdown catch against the Baltimore Colts in 1960 is one of the most famous plays in franchise history. Gibbons played 11 seasons with the Lions (1958-68).

Gibbons died on Sunday, Aug. 20, in Encitas, Calif. He would have turned 80 on Sept. 26.

Gilmer's two-season tenure as head coach of the Lions was brief and unsuccessful. But as a player he made the Pro Bowl twice and spent his last two pro seasons with the Lions as a backup quarterback and is regarded as one of Alabama's all-time greats. Gilmer also was a respected assistant coach.

Gilmer also died on Sunday, at his home in O'Fallon, Mo. He was 90.

Gibbons, drafted by the Lions in the sixth round out of Iowa in 1958, had 287 catches and 20 touchdowns in 140 games, all with the Lions.

His most famous catch – and one of the most dramatic in franchise history – gave the Lions a 20-15 come-from-behind road victory over the Baltimore Colts in 1960. It was a game that the Lions had won, lost, and then ultimately won – all in the last minute – in their late bid to win the Western Division title.

With 15 seconds left, the Colts' Lenny Moore made a diving catch on a pass from John Unitas in the back right corner of the end zone to give the Colts a 15-13 lead. Colts fans flooded the field, and the ensuing kickoff had to be delayed until the field was cleared.

Celebration quickly turned to gloom for the Colts.

The Lions returned the kickoff to the 35-yard line. From there, the offense lined up with 10 seconds left on the clock. With Colts defenders lined up deep to defend against a Hail Mary, backup quarterback Earl Moore connected with Gibbons as he cut over the middle.

Gibbons had a clear path to the end zone. He crossed the goal line as time ran out, giving the Lions an improbable victory.

The victory was the second in a season-ending four-game winning streak that left the Lions with a 7-5 record and tied with San Francisco for second place in the division. The Packers finished first, one game ahead at 8-4.

There were few thrills for Gilmer. He was hired in 1965 to replace George Wilson, a popular figure who had a won-loss record of 55-45 with six ties and was head coach of the 1957 team that won the NFL championship.

Gilmer lasted two seasons in Detroit, with a record of 10-16 and two ties. He was dismissed after the 1966 team posted a 4-9-1 record and replaced by Joe Schmidt, a Hall of Fame middle linebacker and an assistant on Gilmer's staff in 1966.

Gilmer was a highly regarded assistant coach before and after his two seasons in Detroit, and he had a successful playing career at Alabama and in the NFL.

He is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and was drafted first overall by Washington in 1948. He made the Pro Bowl in 1950 and '52 and was traded to the Lions in 1955. Gilmer spent two seasons as a primary backup to Bobby Layne. As a Lion he threw six TD passes against seven interceptions.

Gilmer retired after the 1956 season and went into coaching.

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