The Detroit Lions are off to a historic franchise start thanks to a 31-26 comeback victory over the Chicago Bears. The win moved the Lions to 8-2, the franchise’s best start since 1962.
The last time the Lions were this good through 10 weeks, John F. Kennedy was in the Oval Office, George Romney was elected as Michigan’s Governor, McDonald’s released the newly-invented Filet-O-Fish and Gordie Howe tallied his 500th of 801 career goals for the Detroit Red Wings.
The ’62 Lions joined the list of historical accomplishments with the third-best regular season record in franchise history, behind the 1953 (won the NFL championship) and 1954 squads.
The team was led by head coach George Wilson, the last Lions coach to win an NFL championship in 1957.
The Lions went 11-3 over the 14-game schedule and finished second in the NFL Western Conference behind the Green Bay Packers, the eventual NFL champions.
Back then, only the conference champions would make the postseason for the NFL championship, meaning one of the best Lions seasons ever ended in a missed playoff berth despite having the league’s third-best record.
Back then, the team shared home field at Tiger Stadium with the Detroit Tigers and held practices at the Cranbrook Educational Community in Bloomfield Hills.
The team would have to wait 13 more years for the opening of the Pontiac Silverdome.
The Lions started out 3-0 before dropping a road game to the Packers in Week 4. They went 1-1 the next two weeks with a win over the Los Angeles Rams and a loss to the New York Giants, the other team to make the championship that year.
After the Giants’ loss, the Lions rattled off seven straight victories to reach 11-2 before dropping the season finale against the Chicago Bears inside of a different baseball stadium, Wrigley Field.
The seven-game winning streak featured a Thanksgiving day win over the Packers to avenge the Week 4 loss. The Lions ended up as the only team to defeat the Vince Lombardi-led squad, who finished 14-1 including the championship, the entire season.
Detroit won, 26-14, thanks to a great performance from quarterback/kicker Milt Plum, who threw two first half touchdowns to Gail Codgill and added a field goal in the third quarter to give the Lions an insurmountable 26-0 lead.
Plum was playing his first year in Detroit after being traded from the Cleveland Browns in a six-player deal during the offseason.
He was the main star of the offense, compiling 2378 passing yards, 15 touchdowns and 20 interceptions with a 55.1% completion percentage.
He was assisted by a three-headed backfield comprised of running backs Dan Lewis and Tom Watkins and fullback Nick Pietrosante.
All three finished north of 400 rushing yards and at least two touchdowns on the season. Codgill, who also played defensive end, finished as the team’s leading receiver with 53 receptions for 991 yards and seven touchdowns.
The offense was league average, but the Lions defense was the main catalyst for the success. The defense ranked second in points allowed, only surrendering an average of 12.6 points per game. It was headlined by the “Fearsome Foursome” defensive line made up of starters Sam Williams, Alex Karras, Roger Brown and Darris McCord.
The nickname was bestowed by team announcer Van Patrick for having the league’s best rushing defense and pass rushing ability. The Fearsome Foursome combined for 36 sacks and four forced safeties in 1962.
Wilson coached the Lions for eight seasons from 1957-64, winning an NFL championship in his first year and amassing a 53-45-6 record in Detroit.
He kicked off his tenure with an 8-4 record, good to win the NFC Western Conference, then smacked the Browns, 59-14, for Detroit’s most recent NFL title.
Wilson got his start under the legendary George Halas as the Chicago Bears wide receivers and tight ends coach in 1947 and 1948. He then moved to Detroit to work in the same role from 1949-56 before taking over for Buddy Parker, who was the head coach from 1951-56.
The Lions also had a future Hall of Famer at defensive coordinator. Don Shula, who went on to win two Super Bowls with the Miami Dolphins, was in charge of Detroit’s stifling defense.
He ran the unit from 1960-62, all winning seasons for Detroit, before becoming the youngest head coach in NFL history at the time when he took over the Baltimore Colts at the age of 33 in 1963.
Shula’s defenses consistently ranked near the top of the league, culminating in the dominant performance in 1962. On top of having the second-best scoring defense, The Lions led the league in yards surrendered, only giving up an average of 229.7 yards per game.