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O'HARA: Top 4 jersey numbers in franchise history

As much as the all-time greats in Detroit Lions history are remembered for their performances on the gridiron, so are their jersey numbers.

In that regard, the Lions are one of the few franchises that have used all 100 possible jersey numbers – from 0 (running back Johnny Olszewski in 1961) to several players who've worn 99.

Picking the Mount Rushmore of jersey numbers – the top four in franchise history – is a difficult chore, and certainly open to debate.

For example, a case can be made for Hall of Famer Earl "Dutch" Clark -- a star on the Portsmouth Spartans team that moved to Detroit in 1934 and won the franchise's first NFL championship in 1935 – and many who followed him.

That group includes Hall of Famers such as Doak Walker (37), Yale Lary (28) and Charlie Sanders (88), and popular Pro Bowlers and All Pros like Chris Spielman (54), Bubba Baker (60), Jason Hanson (4), Doug English (78) and Herman Moore (84).

But four numbers are at the top of the mountain.

Here is the Detroit Lions' Mount Rushmore of jersey numbers.

As always, feel free to disagree.


Cornerback Lem Barney, running backs Billy Sims and Barry Sanders.

Three bright stars whose accomplishments shine forever.

Lem Barney: A Lion from 1967-77.

Highlights: Going against Packers legend Bart Starr at Lambeau Field on opening day as a rookie, Barney intercepted the first pass thrown his way and returned it for touchdown. He was off and running – with the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton his ultimate destination. Had a league-high 10 interceptions as a rookie and 56 for his career.

Honors: 7 Pro Bowls, 2 times first team All Pro, All Decade team, 1960s. Hall of Fame induction, 1992.

Billy Sims: A Lion 1980-84; a knee injury in Game 8 of '84 ended his career.

Highlights: Explosive rookie debut: 153 yards rushing with 3 TDs and two catches for 64 yards in a road win over the Rams. He had a big rookie year – 1,303 yards rushing, 621 receiving and 16 total TDs. Went over the 1,000-yard rushing mark in three of his first four seasons and was well on the way to another when he sustained the injury.

Honors: 3 Pro Bowls, offensive rookie of the year in 1980 and franchise's career rushing leader at the time of his retirement with 5,106 yards.

Barry Sanders: Best runner in history, and a Lion all 10 seasons (1989-98).

Highlights: Every time he touched the ball was a highlight, starting with his first game: 71 yards on nine carries when he did not report until three days before the first game because of a contract dispute.

Won four rushing titles, with a personal high of 2,053 yards in 1997. Retired before the 1999 season with 15,269 yards, second at the time only to Walter Payton's 16,726, accomplished in 13 seasons – three more than Sanders.

Honors: 10 Pro Bowls in 10 years, 6 times first-team All Pro, All Decade team, 1990s. Hall of Fame induction, 2004.


Bobby Layne, quarterback.

Leader, winner.

Career log: A Lion for nine seasons (1950-58) in a 15-year career.

Highlights: One of the greatest leaders and toughest quarterbacks of any era. Led the Lions to three championships (1952-53 and '57) but couldn't play in the '57 game because of an injury. Layne's ability to orchestrate comebacks gave teammates confidence that they had a chance to win as long as there was time on the clock.

Honors: 6 Pro Bowls, first team All Pro twice, All Decade team, 1950s. Hall of Fame induction, 1967.


Joe Schmidt, middle linebacker, head coach.

Lion King.

Career log: All 13 seasons as a Lion (1953-65). Head coach from 1967-72, posting a won-loss record of 43-34 with seven ties.

Highlights: One of the pioneering middle linebacker founders when teams replaced the middle guard in the five-man line with a linebacker. Nobody in Schmidt's era – and very few since -- played it better. He stopped the run and everything else. Had 24 career interceptions and 17 fumble recoveries, including a league-high eight in 1955.

Honors: 10 straight Pro Bowls (1954-63), 8 times first team All Pro, All Decade team, 1950s. Hall of Fame induction, 1973.

Curtain call quip: Schmidt's jersey was brought out of retirement and given to Pat Swilling when the former defensive MVP was acquired in a trade in 1993. Schmidt took it in good humor at the training camp ceremony, saying: "I feel like I've been exhumed."

Swilling was cut after two seasons in Detroit, and Schmidt's jersey was restored to its rightful retirement.


Night Train Lane & Calvin Johnson.

Iconic cornerback, Megatron.

Night Train Lane:

Career log: 6 seasons as a Lion (1960-65) in a career that began with the Rams in 1952.

Highlights: Big for his day (6-1, 194) and rough every day he played, with the famous "neck-tie tackles" that made receivers fear him. Broke in with 14 interceptions -- still the single-season league record -- as a rookie with the Rams in 1952. He had plenty left in the tank when he got to Detroit in 1960 for what would be his last five seasons. He gambled a lot and won a lot as one of the iconic players in NFL history. No question that he could play and dominate in this era.

Honors: 3 Pro Bowls, first-team All Pro twice as a Lion; 7 Pro Bowls, first-team All Pro 3 times overall. All Decade team, 1950s. Hall of Fame induction, 1974.

Calvin Johnson

Career log: A Lion all 9 seasons (2007-15) after being drafted second overall.

Highlights: Nickname "Megatron" bestowed on him as a rookie by fellow receiver Roy Williams was fitting and signaled what was to come from one of the most dominating players of his era. Size (6-5, 237), speed (sub 4.40 40 time) and leaping ability gave him a physical edge over defensive backs. Struggled late in his career with injuries but left a mark as an all-time great and worthy Hall of Fame candidate.

Honors: 6 Pro Bowls, 3 times first team All Pro, NFL record 1,964 receiving yards and league-high 122 catches in 2012.

Fantasy Matchup: 81 vs. 81

Who'd win – Megatron or Night Train -- if they went one-on-one?

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