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O'HARA: Top duos in Lions history

Football is the ultimate team sport, but there is room for teammates to form a duo that can make their team successful.

The Detroit Lions have had many examples of that, dating to the championship decade of the 1950s through the current roster.

Following are my picks for the Lions' top duos of the last seven decades, from 1950-59 through 2010 to the present.

There are 20 former Lions enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and 15 of them are considered to have played the majority of their careers or a substantial portion of it for the Lions. Not all of the players selected for these duos are in the Hall of Fame.

Picks for each decade are limited to two players who were teammates.

As always, feel free to disagree.


QB Bobby Layne, MLB Joe Schmidt.

Spotlight: The two Hall of Famers were team leaders in a decade when the Lions won three championship games and lost a fourth.

Layne, a Lion from 1950-58, is a mythic figure in NFL history for how he played hard and lived hard. He was portrayed on a 1995 Sports Illustrated classic edition cover as "The Toughest Quarterback Ever."

Layne was more than tough. He was the original Comeback King for his way of leading rallies. It was said about him that he never lost a game, time just ran out.

Schmidt, a Lion his entire career (1953-65), was a pioneer of the middle linebacker position with the introduction of the 4-3 as a base defense. He roamed the field to intercept 24 passes and recover 17 fumbles.

Layne and Schmidt remain franchise icons and a standard for greatness.


Cornerbacks Night Train Lane, Dick LeBeau.

Spotlight: A fortuitous pairing of castoffs gave the Lions a Hall of Fame cornerback tandem – with punter and safety Yale Lary the third Hall of Famer with them in the secondary.

LeBeau made the roster in 1959 as a rookie after being drafted and released by the Browns, then signed by the Lions in midseason. LeBeau was a regular in 1960 when the 32-year-old Lane was acquired in a trade with 47 interceptions already to his credit from his first eight seasons.

Lane was a ball hawk and physical enforcer whose neck-tie tackles made receivers watch to see if No. 81 was in the vicinity.

Lane played his last six seasons in Detroit while LeBeau spent his entire 14 seasons as a Lion and holds the franchise record with 62 interceptions. Lane had 21 interceptions as a Lion, giving him 68 for his career.


CB Lem Barney, TE Charlie Sanders.

Spotlight: Nicknames showed how highly regarded Barney and Sanders were as young players starting Hall of Fame careers.

Detroit News columnist Jerry Green dubbed Barney "The Supernatural" for his incredible athleticism. Teammates called Sanders "Little Mackey" for resembling Colts All-Pro tight end John Mackey.

As a rookie on opening day in 1967, Barney intercepted the first pass thrown in his territory by Packers legend Bart Starr and returned it for a touchdown. Barney would have 56 career interceptions in 11 seasons.

Sanders used athleticism to make highlight reel catches like a wide receiver, in addition to being a devastating blocker like a traditional tight end. He made the Pro Bowl in his first four seasons, and seven times overall. He retired after the 1977 season as the franchise leader with 336 career catches.


RB Billy Sims, DT Doug English.

Spotlight: Lions fans hoping for the unveiling of a superstar when Sims was drafted first overall in 1980 had their hopes fulfilled by Sims' opening-day performance against the Rams.

Sims exploded for 153 yards rushing and three TDs and added two receptions for 64 yards. He was an electrifying runner with a dash of showmanship. Unfortunately, his outstanding career was ended early by a knee injury sustained in Game 8 of the 1984 season. Sims retired as the franchise's career rushing leader with 5,106 yards.

English played 10 seasons over 11 years from 1975-85, with the 1980 season off for personal business. On the field, English was all business as a versatile interior defender who could stuff the run and rush the passer. He had a career-high 13 sacks in 1983, 59 for his career and made four Pro Bowls.


**RB Barry Sanders, WR Herman Moore.


Spotlight: Sanders was the best pure runner in history. He benefitted in his Hall of Fame career with Moore as a receiving threat for eight of his 10 seasons.

Not that Sanders needed much help. Sanders won four rushing titles. He went over the 1,000-yard rushing mark in all 10 of his seasons (1989-98), with a career high 2,053 in 1997 and retired with 15,269 rushing yards and 99 TDs for his career.

Moore set records of his own with his height (6-4), great hands and strength. In 1995-97 he became the first NFL receiver with 100 or more catches (123, 106, 104) and won two receiving titles. The 123 catches were the league's single-season record at the time and still a franchise record. He was All Pro three times and made four Pro Bowls.


Kicker Jason Hanson, CB Dre Bly.

Spotlight: Hanson and Bly provided shining examples of excellence in the gloom of a mostly fruitless decade.

In a 21-season career as a Lion that spanned three decades (1992-2012), Hanson had two of his highest conversion rates on field goals in this decade – 95.7 percent (22-23) in 2003, and 95.5 percent (21-22) in 2008.

Overall, Hanson ranks fifth in league history in career games played (327) and fourth all time in career points scored (2,150).

Bly brought a lift and playmaking ability when he signed as a free agent in 2003 after playing in two Super Bowls with the Rams. In four seasons as a Lion he had 19 interceptions, five fumble recoveries and three TDs on returns. He made the Pro Bowl in two seasons and was an alternate in a third.


**WR Calvin Johnson, QB Matthew Stafford


Spotlight: Johnson lived up to the nickname "Megatron" given to him as a rookie by former teammate Roy Williams.

In nine seasons as a Lion Johnson overpowered entire secondaries with his size, speed and athleticism to make highlight catches as the Lions' most exciting player since Barry Sanders. In 2012 he set the NFL's single-season record for yards with 1,964 on a career-high 122 catches.

In Stafford's case, the Lions wanted to end the search for a successor to Bobby Layne when they drafted him first overall in 2009. Mission accomplished. In his eight seasons as a Lion Stafford has climbed the NFL's all-time list of yards and touchdown passes.

He has added durability to his natural ability, starting every game since opening day of 2011 in becoming the Lions' unquestioned leader.

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