75 Years Ago the Detroit Lions Won Their First World Championship

It is an anniversary that passed without any recognition in either the local papers or the Detroit Lions’ website.

Seventy-five years ago this past December 15th, in only their second season in Detroit, the Lions defeated the New York Giants 26-7 before 15,000 fans at the University of Detroit stadium to capture their first world championship.

Two months earlier, the Tigers won their first World Championship and that is another anniversary that was not recognized this year. (But not by this website.)

The stadium at the McNichols campus was torn down years ago and the football field is now a paved parking lot outside of Calihan Hall. There is no historical marker at the site and nearly everyone driving down Six Mile Road has no idea that is where the Lions won their first of four world titles. (The others were won in ’52, ’53, and ’57)

On that cold and dreary day, the Lions’ offensive star was their fearless leader who wore number 7, Earl “Dutch” Clark who had lead the NFL in scoring with 55 points (6 TDs, 1 Field goal, and 16 extra point kicks.) In the championship game Clark gained 80 yards rushing and while handling punt and kick returns.

Detroit’s fourth touchdown occurred thanks to rookie Raymond “Buddy” Parker who years later would be involved in the next three world championship games played by the Lions.

Parker intercepted a pass by former U of M star Harry Newman and ran the ball back 23 yards to the Giant’s 10 yard line. After a couple of cracks into the Giants’ line, Parker ran in for the touchdown. Buddy Parker was the Lions’ head coach in the glory days of the 1950s when he was at the helm for three division titles and two world championships in 1952 and 1953.

I had the pleasure ten years ago to interview Glenn Presnell who was the last surviving member of that 1935 World Championship team. He passed away in 2004 at age 99. The following is what Presnell told me about the game:

“I remember that it was a snowy day, very cold, and there were far less fans there than the ’34 Thanksgiving Day game. In those days, people didn’t go very often when it wasn’t nice weather.

I was the starting quarterback that game and for most of the season. Potsy liked to start me and see what was going on before sending in Dutch Clark. The one thing that stands out to me is that we scored in the first two minutes. I had thrown a flat pass to our blocking back on a fake for a 60-yard play to about their four-yard line. Ace Gutowsky punched it over for the score and I kicked the extra point. If we celebrated when we made a touchdown like the way they do today we would have been hooted off the field.

For winning the championship, we each received $300. We never got a championship ring like they do now, but it was certainly one of my proudest moments. Remember, professional football was not nearly as popular as college football and baseball. It was much more exciting to play college football at Nebraska in front of 40,000 people. It was a way to make a living during the Depression.”

Hopefully one of these days the Lions will win another world championship that we can write about.

The Detroit Lions' Dutch Clark was a six-time All-Pro and three-time league scoring leader. He led the Lions to a 26-7 victory over the New York Giants in the 1935 NFL championship game.

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About Bill Dow

Bill Dow has written numerous articles on Detroit sports history as a regular freelance contributor to the Detroit Free Press sports page, and some of his work has been published in Baseball Digest magazine. He also wrote the Afterword to the latest editions of George Plimpton’s book Paper Lion.