With the Detroit Lions’ current season already a lost cause a little more than halfway through the schedule, some fans and media types have amused themselves with comparing this year’s squad to other hot messes in team history. The most commonly invoked comparison is the 2008 Lions, the first—and so far, the only—NFL team ever to finish 0-16. The only good to come out of that debacle was the long-overdue firing of team president and CEO Matt Millen, one of the most inept executives in the annals of pro football. Head coach Rod Marinelli and most of his staff also were deservedly broomed aside at the end of the season.
There’s been one other winless team in Lions history, and that was the 1942 squad. It was the first NFL season of World War II. There was talk of suspending play, but ultimately it was decided that all professional sports should continue as morale boosters.
In that regard, the ’42 Lions hardly qualified. The team lost all 11 games it played. The toothless Lions were shut out five times, never scored more than seven points in any game, and tallied a grand total of 38 points for the entire season. That worked out to a measly 3.5 points per game.
The ’42 Lions featured Harry Hopp at tailback. Although he handled the majority of offensive plays, he failed to personally account for a single touchdown, either on the ground or through the air. In an era where the forward pass was nowhere near the weapon it would soon become, Hopp managed to complete only 20 of his 68 throws—unless you want to count the 13 aerials he threw into the arms of opponents. The team was so awful, head coach Bill Edwards quit after three games. John “Bull” Karcis took over, and he was gone at season’s end.
That end couldn’t come soon enough. The Lions concluded the season with a 15-3 loss to Washington, as just 6,044 fans rattled around Briggs Stadium. It remains the second-lowest home turnout in franchise history.
Unlike the 2008 Lions, who extended their losing streak two games deep into the following season, the ’42 squad started off the next year on a triumphant note. Under new coach Gus Dorais and featuring rookie tailback Frankie Sinkwich, Detroit beat the Chicago Cardinals, 35-17. The Lions’ five touchdowns that afternoon matched their entire output of 1942.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a great club,” cautioned owner Fred Mandel. “But it’s a great improvement.”
Stats from Football-Reference.com