Much has been made of the new and improved Detroit Lion receiving corps as the team prepares to head to camp to begin the 2004 season. Second-year player Charles Rogers, rookie first-round selection Roy Williams and free-agent veterans Tai Streets and Stephen Alexander will all be expected to play a big part in the development of third-year signal-caller Joey Harrington. Lion fans everywhere hope that these four players will soon make routine-catches-routine and touchdown receptions a common occurrence.
In the long and storied history of the Detroit Lion franchise, quality at the receiver positions has rarely been a question mark. Since the NFL passing game began to truly take flight in the 1940's, the Lions have been blessed time-and-again with excellent pass-catchers at a variety of positions. Below is the first installment in a six-part series paying tribute to the players who've established that legacy.
Part One: Greene, Mann and the Forgettable Forties
The first receiving duo to put up big numbers in the Motor City was the End-tandem of John Greene and Bob Mann. John Greene was drafted by the Lions in the fifth-round of the 1944 draft out of the University of Michigan. He would only play in nine games his rookie season, mainly on defense, recording 2 interceptions. In 1945 he would establish himself offensively, catching a team leading 26 passes. From 1945-47, John would lead the Lions in receptions, becoming the first player in team history to accomplish that feat in three-consecutive years.
In 1948, Greene would lead the NFL in average yards-per-reception (23.8), while grabbing 25 passes and 5 touchdowns. Then in 1949, John and the aforementioned Bob Mann would combine to snare 108 passes, for 1,556 yards, and 11 touchdowns. Despite the duo's numbers, Detroit would finish with a disappointing 4-8 record.
John would end his Detroit career in 1950 with 173 receptions (20th place all-time), for 2,965 yards and 26 touchdowns. His career touchdown reception total still ranks eighth-place in franchise history. In addition, his career 17.1 yards-per-reception average is the highest among all Lions on the team's top 20 receptions list.
During Bob Mann's short two-year stint with the Lions, he became part of two milestones that will forever keep him connected to the franchise. The first milestone came before he even suited up for his first Detroit game. In 1948, Mann and teammate Mel Groomes became the first black players to sign with the Lions. While it was Groomes who was signed 72 hours before Mann, likely because Mel had previously played for then-Lions' head coach Bo McMillin at the University of Indiana, it would be Mann would make a bigger impact on Detroit's gridiron.
Bob led the Lions in receiving yardage as a rookie, collecting 560 yards on 33 receptions. Then in 1949, Mann broke his second Lion milestone. He became the first receiver in franchise history and, at the time, only the fourth receiver in NFL history to gain 1,000 yards in a single-season. Mann would gain 1,014 yards on 66 grabs, with four of the passes going for touchdowns. He remains only one of ten players in Lion history to gain 1,000 yards receiving in a single-season.
Friday - Part Two: Championships, Depth, and Dominance