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Originally created in 1929 as the Portsmouth Spartans in Ohio. Early highlights of the Spartans include the "iron man" game against Green Bay in 1932. In that game, Spartan coach Potsy Clark refused to make even a single substitution against the defending NFL champion Packers. Portsmouth won 19–0 and used only 11 players all game. At the end of the 1932 season, the Spartans were tied for first place in the league with the Chicago Bears. That prompted what in retrospect became known as the first NFL playoff game. Blizzard conditions in Chicago meant the game was moved from Wrigley Field indoors to Chicago Stadium, which allowed for only an 80-yard field. The game was won 9-0 by the Bears, on a touchdown pass from Bronko Nagurski to Red Grange. The resulting interest led to the establishment of Eastern and Western conferences and a regular championship game beginning in 1933.
The team then moved in 1934 from Ohio to Detroit to become the Detroit Lions. The team would then win championships in 1935, 1952, 1953, 1957. In 1980 the Lions got the first overall pick where they would pick the running back Billy Sims. He would run them right into a winning record but they would miss the playoffs for the 10th year straight. In 1990 the Lions would draft NFL Legendary running back, Barry Sanders. He missed the NFL rushing title by 10 yards because he chose not to go back into the game when the Lions already had the game won. According to Wayne Fontes, when he offered Sanders the chance to gain the yardage and the rushing title, Sanders declined, reportedly saying, "Coach, let's just win it (the game) and go home
In the playoffs, the Lions dismembered the Cowboys 38-6 for the team's only postseason win since 1957. However, they were completely overpowered by the Redskins 41-10 in the NFC Championship. This was the first time a team that had been shut out in its opener had reached the conference title round. Two teams have since matched this feat: The Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots did it in 2003.
The Lions also made the playoffs in 1993, 1994, 1995, 1997 and 1999, making the 1990s one of the most successful decades in team history. After that, they went 12 years without a playoff appearance. Until 2011 where Calvin Johnson carried the team on his fantastic performance of 1,681 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns.