Packers-Lions: Rivalry slips under radar

When most Green Bay Packer fans are asked who the Pack's biggest rival is, they will invariably say the Chicago Bears. Or perhaps the Minnesota Vikings. But never or rarely the Detroit Lions. Why is this?

The Packers and Lions have been playing each other since 1930 when the Lions were the Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans. They have faced off 151 times, with the Packers holding a 80-64 edge with 7 ties. The rivalry with the Lions was never more intense than it was in the Lombardi era.

Vince Lombardi became head coach of the Packers in 1959. That was two years removed from the Lions last NFL championship. Add to that, the Packers and Lions had played on Thanksgiving day in Detroit since 1951. That continued until 1964, when the league started rotating NFL teams to play the Lions on turkey day. The most infamous Thanksgiving game of that era came in 1962. The Packers were undefeated coming into Detroit. The Lions brought their "A" game that day as Bart Starr was harassed all day in a 26-14 loss. Starr was sacked 11 times in the game as Alex Karras, Roger Brown and company had a big day. The Green Bay dream of a perfect season ended that day as the Packers would finish 1962 13-1.

The Packers got the last laugh as the team repeated as NFL champs in 1962. The Packers won three consecutive western conference titles from 1960-62. Guess who finished second all three years? The Lions. But the rivalry has not had many big games since that era in terms of divisional prominence. Since the NFC Central/North came about in 1967, the Packers have won the division 8 times. The Lions have only won the division 3 times. Compare that to the dominance of the Vikings and Bears over that time. The Vikes have won the division a whopping 16 times, while da Bears have won the division 8 times. That is why the rivalry with those two teams is more renown.

Add to that, the Lions have been a bad football team for many years. Detroit's last winning season occurred in 2000 when they were 9-7. As mentioned earlier, the team hasn't won a NFL title since 1957. In fact, they have only been in one title game since, in 1991 when they were blasted by the Washington Redskins 41-10. The Packers and Lions do have a fairly recent playoff history. Who can forget Brett Favre's last minute deep heave to Sterling Sharpe in the Packers wild 28-24 win over the Lions in the Silverdome in the 1993 playoffs? How about the Packers holding the great Barry Sanders to minus-1 yard in 13 attempts in a 16-12 win at frigid Lambeau Field the following year?

Recent history has the Packers at a big advantage. The Lions have not won in Green Bay since 1991. The Packers have been pretty competitive in Detroit over that period of time. The Packers have won six times in Detroit in the Favre era, including the infamous playoff game. The Packers are 2-2 against the Lions at Ford Field. The bottom line is a Packers/Lions game just doesn't have the same feel as a game against the Bears or the Vikings. Still, anytime a franchise lines up against another 151 times, there has to be at least a subliminal rivalry. Maybe the the rivalry will someday be like it was in the early 60's. But based on recent history, that doesn't appear likely for awhile.

Bob Fox is a frequent contributor to E-mail him at

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