The Curse of Bobby Layne

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The Bobby Layne curse is a limitation that was believed to affect the Detroit Lions, keeping them from winning the NFL Championship between 1958 and 2008. The curse has afflicted the Lions since 1958 when it was uttered by Bobby Layne who was incensed at being traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The curse, which was supposed to run for 50 years, is now past its expiration date, having hit the 50-year mark in 2008.

How did the Curse of Bobby Layne Start?

Between 1950 and 1958, the Detroit Lions were the strongest team in the NFL, winning three Championships (1952, 1953 and 1957) during this time. Perhaps the most important member of the Lions roster during this stretch was quarterback Bobby Lane. Layne joined the Lions in 1950 and quickly established himself as the greatest quarterback in the league.

He led the Lions to the 1952 and 1953 Championships but they missed out narrowly in 1954. In 1957, he broke his leg in three places during a pileup on the pitch during the seventh game of the season and missed the rest of the season. Backup quarterback Tobin Rote stepped in and led the Lions to a third NFL Championship in seven years.

On October 6, 1958, the Lions, believing that Layne’s best days were behind him traded him to the Pittsburgh Steelers against his wish. Annoyed by the decision, Layne is reported to have declared that the Lions would not win the NFL Championship for another 50 years. The Steelers are of course the most successful team in the NFL today but they were mere whipping boys during Layne’s days.

Consequences of the Curse of Bobby Layne

Although the reports of Bobby uttering those fateful words are believed in many quarters to be a hoax, it is also said that he did not really mean them and only blurted out in a moment of anger. Whatever the case, his word came to pass. After he departed from the Lions, they descended into mediocrity. The made just nine playoff appearances since 1958 of which they recorded only one win, giving them the worst winning percentage of any NFL team. They only won the division title three times since then and have not won a single NFL Championship.

The Lions are just one of two teams that existed before 1970 never to reach the Super Bowl. The curse intensified during the 2000s as it neared its declared demise. Between 2001 and 2008, the Lions had a poor overall record of 31-80. The exclamation mark at the end of the 50 years was a 0-16 record in 2008, the first team ever to achieve that unenviable feat. The quarterback position vacated by Layne has been the worst affected since his departure. In 50 years that the curse held, only one quarterback, Greg Landry in 1970, made Pro Bowl.

While the Lions were going through their woes, the Steelers were busy making history. Although the Steelers never made the playoffs with Layne on their rosters, they would win championship after championship after he left and today top the charts of most successful NFL team with six Championships. When Bobby Layne retired, he had appeared in five Pro Bowls and held the NFL record for most passing yards, passing touch downs and passes attempted and completed.

The Aftermath of the Bobby Layne Curse

The Lions are yet to win the NFL Championship and do not quite look up to the challenge. However one personnel addition shortly after the expiry of the curse looks like the inspiration required to do just that someday. In the 2009 NFL draft, the first since the expiry of the curse, Detroit signed Stafford Mathew Stafford, a quarterback who coincidentally -or perhaps not- lived on the same street in Dallas Layne grew up on and went to Highland Park High School, the same as Layne.

Stafford would help the Lions play more competitively and in 2013, he broke the club record for all-time passing total-a record that previously belonged to Layne. In 2014 he broke Layne’s franchise record for most touchdown passes. The discovery of Stafford is yet to result in silverware but the abominations of 2008 (0-16) and 2009 (2-14) now seem like a thing of the past. Since the expiry of the curse, Stafford has led Detroit to two playoff appearances (2011 and 2014) but they are yet to break their playoff duck, with their playoff record post-1958 now standing at 1-12.