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How the Curse of Bobby Layne Crippled the Detroit Lions

On this week's Thanksgiving episode of Misfits and Mysteries, I told Emmy all about one of the most famous NFL curses, the Curse of Bobby Layne. Whether or not you believe in curses, it’s a strange coincidence that since Bobby Layne cursed the Detroit Lions, the organization collapsed and became the laughing stock of the NFL.

Who Was Bobby Layne?

Image of Detroit Lions Hall of Fame Quarterback Bobby Layne throwing a football
Bobby Layne

Bobby Layne was a superstar, hall of fame quarterback for the Detroit Lions during their “golden years” in the 1950’s. Layne and the Detroit Lions dominated the football world in the 1950’s, winning three national championships (this was pre Super Bowl era football). Bobby Layne is arguably the greatest quarterback in Lion’s history, besides maybe their current quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Layne was a fan favorite player because of his dedication to “playing hard both on and off the field.” Bobby was known for spending hours partying and drinking the night before games and leading the Lions to magical comeback wins in the fourth quarter of games. While drinking heavily the night before games was not frowned upon like it is today in sports, the Lions did have issues with Laynes antics. He would often end up in court after the games were over because of his drunken antics the night before.

Image of Quarterback Tobin Rote
Tobin Rote

Despite all the winning, the Detroit Lions management was finally fed up with Bobby Layne’s antics and signed veteran quarterback Tobin Rote to split time with Layne. Layne was not very happy about having to share playing time with Rote, but soon things got even worse for him. During a game, Layne was hit by two defensive linemen and broke his leg, forcing him to miss the rest of the season. Unfortunately for Layne, Rote won a national championship for the Lions and Layne was no longer the starting quarterback.

The Curse is Born

On October 6, 1958, the Detroit Lions traded Hall of Famer Bobby Layne to the Pittsburgh Steelers in for quarterback Earl Morrall and two high draft picks. Layne was pissed off about the trade and said that the Lions wouldn’t win another championship for 50 years. Whether or not you actually believe in curses, since trading Bobby Layne, the Detroit Lions franchise has fallen apart.

If you want to see the Detroit Lions failures for yourself, check out this video from NFL Films.

Since the trade, the Lion’s organization has won only one playoff game and has fallen victim to a litany of unfortunate and sometimes downright improbable losses. In 1970, the Detroit Lions lost to the New Orleans Saints on a 63 yard field goal from Tom Dempsey, a kicker with only half of a foot. If this doesn’t scream curse I don’t know what does. For anyone who doesn’t follow football, kickers are significantly better at kicking the ball from long distance today than they were in the 1970’s and it’s still not all that common to see 63 yard field goals. The fact that a man with only part of his kicking foot managed to sink a 63 yarder is insane. The Lion’s also lost a playoff game 5:0, which is nearly impossible. If you hold a team to 5 points, I think it actually might be statistically impossible to lose that game and the Lion’s somehow found a way. The quarterback position in particular has been cursed, aside from Matthew Stafford, the Lion’s haven’t had a good quarterback since Bobby Layne. Lion’s quarterback also tend to suffer from really unfortunate injuries, with Matthew Stafford breaking his back just last year.

To show the flip-side of this curse, prior to the trade, the Steelers weren’t a very successful organization, in fact they had never won a playoff game. It’s crazy to think that one of the most successful and storied NFL franchises of the Super Bowl era, sucked until the Lions traded Bobby Layne. Seems like a strange coincidence. Since the trade, the Steelers have won 628 regular season games, the fourth most in NFL history, and 33 playoff games, the most in NFL history. The Steelers have also won 6 super bowls, including one in Detroit in 2006 and their most recent Super Bowl win during the 2008/2009 season, 50 years after the trade, when the Detroit Lions had a perfectly defeated season 0:16 season.

I don’t know if Bobby Layne actually cursed the Detroit Lions or not. All I do know is that ever since trading Bobby, the Lion’s have been an awful organization and Pittsburgh Steelers became one of the most respected and storied franchises in NFL history. If you liked this blog, please consider sharing it and check out our Podcast.

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