Seventy Years Ago, the Lions Had a Running Game

On November 4th, seventy-years ago, the Detroit Lions did have a running game -- unlike today's Lions, writes historian Doug Warren.

The trouble surrounding the 2004 Detroit Lions' putrid rushing attack have been one of the hottest topics of conversation in and around the Motor City during this current NFL campaign. However, while the Lions' ground game in recent years has been about a formidable as a sack of cat manure, Lions' history shows clearly that that wasn't always the case.

The NFL's 2004 season marks the Detroit Lions' 70th season in the league. It was during the Leo's first season in Motown that they set one of the NFL's oldest offensive records. Seventy years ago this week the Lions, led by speedy wingback Ernie Caddel, rushed for still-standing NFL team record of 426 yards in a 40-7 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates (later to be known as the Steelers) at the old University of Detroit Stadium, which was then located at the corner of McNichols and Livernois in Detroit.

At the time of the record setting performance, the Lions, who had spent the first four years of their NFL existence (1930-33) as the Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans, were one of the NFL's most dominant teams; earning a combined record of 23-10-4 (.622) from 1931-33. Going into the 1934 game versus the Pirates, Detroit's record stood at 7-0, and they had not given up a point all season in victories over the New York Giants, 9-0; Chicago Cardinals, 6-0; Green Bay Packers, 3-0; Philadelphia Eagles, 10-0; Boston Redskins, 24-0; Brooklyn Dodgers, 28-0; and the combined forces of the soon-to-be-defunct Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Gunners squads, 38-0.

During the 1934 season, in which the Lions would finish in second-place (10-3) in the NFL's Western Division behind the Chicago Bears (13-0), Detroit would run for team total of 2,740 yards (210.8 yards-per-game) and a league-leading 27 rushing touchdowns. That yardage total remains the third-highest single-season total in franchise history.

Below is a short recap of the aforementioned record-setting game Pittsburgh game, which came during Week 8 of the 1934 season.

November 4, 1934

Detroit 40

Pittsburgh 7

Attendance: 6,000

@ Detroit

When the Lions opened up a five game home stand with Art Rooney's Pittsburgh Pirates on November 4, they had not given up a single point in their first seven games of their inaugural season in the Motor City. No opponent had even crossed the Lions' 22 yard line during the incredible stretch as the Lions compiled 118 points of their own. However on this day, against Art Rooney's lowly Pittsburgh Pirates, the shutout streak came to an end when the Swashbucklers scored their lone touchdown on a 62-yard punt return by Joe Skladany. The Pirate score was set up by a trans-continental-cross-field lateral from Harp Vaughn, who fielded the Lion punt to start the return. It was the only time all day that the Pirates crossed midfield as the Lions' single-wing ground attack racked up 426 yards in a 40-7 triumph.

The day was highlighted by the spectacular performance of Lion wingback Ernie Caddel. Caddel scored three touchdowns and threw for a fourth as the Lions rolled up 33 unanswered points after Skladany's score. Ernie completed a 24-yard pass to Harry Ebding in the second period to push the Lions to a 20-7 advantage at the half. Caddel then added a 45-yard interception return to paydirt, and a 20-yard TD run in the third. Ernie topped off his day with another 20-yard dash from scrimmage in the final period.

Detroit 7 13 13 7 - 40

Pittsburgh 7 0 0 0 - 7

Detroit - Christensen 1-yard run (Clark kick)

Pittsburgh - Skladany 62-yard punt return (Niccolai kick)

Detroit - Clark 45-yard run (kick failed)

Detroit - Ebding 24-yard pass from Caddel (Presnell kick)

Detroit - Caddel 45-yard interception return (kick failed)

Detroit - Caddel 20-yard run (Clark kick)

Detroit - Caddel 20-yard run (Clark kick)

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