Nate Caminata - LionsFans.com
On October 6, 1975, the Detroit Lions entered the Pontiac Metropolitan Stadium with a 2-0 record, facing the Dallas Cowboys before a sell-out crowd of 79,784.
It would mark the first regular season contest the Lions would play in what would later be renamed the Pontiac Silverdome. On hand for the festivities included former Lion greats Dexter Bussey, Charlie Sanders and Lem Barney.
Current Chicago Bears head coach, Dick Jauron, lined up at safety for Detroit.
Unfortunately, the Cowboys, who would contend for Super Bowl X later that year, would spoil the grand opening and thump the Lions, 36-10. Although Detroit would garner its first victory in Pontiac a week later against Chicago, the loss set a ignoble precedence the team would follow the next 26 years.
The Lions will have an opportunity on Sunday to avenge that loss, and leave the Silverdome with a winning memory, when they participate in their final contest in Pontiac. Ironically, it will be against the Cowboys.
Since its 1975 inception, the Pontiac Silverdome has been expanded to seat over 80,000 -- the most in the NFL, and has witnessed some of the most exalting, horrifying, and bizarre moments in NFL history.
Former Lions' running back Barry Sanders, who abruptly left the game in 1999, gave fans a host of memorable moments on the Silverdome turf. Among them include his dazzling rookie performance against Phoenix in 1989, a career-high 237 yard romp versus Tampa Bay in 1994, and several other individual runs -- most under 5-yards -- that left us awestruck.
Return man Mel Gray, who departed Detroit for the Houston Oilers a few years earlier, represented the closest thing to lightning speed ever witnessed on a football field. We treated many of his returns the same we treated Sanders' every touch of the football -- with absolute fascination. Besides his incredible speed, Gray had a knack for setting up would-be tacklers 5-yards in advance.
Although breath-taking moments were common under the Silverdome roof, none were as significant -- or soul moving -- as two specific instances that we will never forget.
On November 17, 1991, offensive lineman Mike Utley suffered a paralyzing neck injury against the Los Angeles Rams. The young Utley, who was recognized as the heart and soul of the offensive line, had to be carted off the field. However, his thumbs-up gesture as he was leaving the field inspired his teammates to win their next six contests, and gave fans a renewed passion for Lions' football.
Utley, still in rehabilitation, took his first steps since the injury two-years ago.
Another moment, and perhaps more painful to witness, was linebacker Reggie Brown's devastating neck injury in 1997.
Brown, a first round draft choice a year earlier, was a rising star on the Detroit roster, and the remainder of the NFL was starting to take notice. During a crucial contest against the New York Jets, the Lions went into the game with playoff potential on the line. It also marked a game in which Barry Sanders would rush reach for the 2,000 yard mark for the season. With just 53 at halftime, all of the attention surrounded Sanders, as he needed 131 more to reach 2000.
That attention soon dwindled, and refocused on Brown, who after receiving a blow to the helmet, fell to the Silverdome turf unconscious.
The game, a nationally televised event on Monday Night Football, quickly turned insignificant. Brown laid motionless as wide receiver Johnnie Morton, panic-stricken, sprinted to the Silverdome exit to personally retrieve the attention of the ambulance. Players from both teams knelt onto the field in prayer.
After a 30 minute delay, Brown was carted off the field. Although he would later regain use of his extremities, his short-lived NFL career was finished. But his life, in jeopardy according to later reports, was saved. Sanders' finished with 2,053 yards for the regular season, but his milestone was bittersweet. By the time Sanders had broken the plateau, football had already taken a back seat.
The Pontiac Silverdome has witnessed the best and the worst. But its best has been mainly compromised of individual performances, while its worst has defined the futile history that is the Detroit Lions.
No Super Bowls. No NFC Championships. No Respect.
The new, glamorous Ford Field which will debut next year will certainly have its work cut out for it. The Silverdome was tainted by an organization that simply could not find a way to win. And just like the Silverdome, Ford Field will not be remembered for its awesome visage decades from now. It will be remembered for what it represented.
Hopefully, the team playing within its doors recognizes the significance.
Goodbye, Pontiac Silverdome, we'll miss the accommodating hall ways.