When the headline popped up on my phone that the NFL’s longest-ever field goal had snatched a last second victory for the Baltimore Ravens, I instinctively knew which team had suffered the gut-wrenching loss.
It simply had to be the Detroit Lions.
If such a thing as a curse actually exists, then the Detroit Lions are accursed. Quite frankly I can’t think of any other way to explain the team’s astounding bad luck.
Fortunately for me I did not watch last Sunday’s game. I instead spent the afternoon in the back yard with a chainsaw, continuing to clean up from the very large maple tree a windstorm destroyed last month. The family of some friends stopped by late afternoon to cut and haul out some of the wood, and they were a happy lot because they had just watched the Cleveland Browns defeat the Chicago Bears.
I knew better than to be a Pollyanna and ask them if the Lions won. Instead I was a realist and asked how badly the Lions lost, and they said they didn’t know the score.
Even though I have been a lifelong diehard Lions fan, the team has been so bad for so long, and have been the victims of so many horrendously bad game-costing calls by the referees, that I have lost much interest. Heck, I was so disinterested Sunday that I hadn’t even looked to see who they were playing. I record each week’s game automatically, and since I only watch the games they win I haven’t watched much NFL football in recent years.
So when I looked at my phone and saw the headline about the record-setting field goal, I knew yet another Lions recording would be immediately deleted. Actually, the satellite receiver took pity on me and for some reason did not record the game, even though it was listed in our recording schedule.
National news was not so kind, however, as they rubbed it in by showing the kick repeatedly.
As it turned out the play was classic Lions. I did eventually watch a quick game summary, and the Lions led with like 30 seconds to go and the Ravens had a fourth down with 19 yards to go, well short of field goal range. They completed a pass for a first down, yet still were well out of field goal range – at least according to traditional wisdom.
The Ravens lined up with three seconds left in the game, and the holder kneeling 66 yards away from the goalpost. Baltimore kicker Justin Tucker booted the ball high and deep, and when it came down it bounced off the crossbar of the goalpost.
Yes, that’s right, it bounced off the crossbar.
From there the ball could have done one of four things. It could have bounced back onto the field, meaning the kick was no good. It could have bounced to the right, meaning the kick was no good. It could have bounced off to the left, meaning the kick was no good. Any of these outcomes give the Lions a win.
Instead the ball bounced behind the goal post, meaning the kick was good.
The Lions had been ahead by a point. A field goal is worth three points. When the ball bounced over the goal post there was no time left on the clock. Ravens 19, Lions 17. So goes yet another entry in the long ledger of gut-wrenching Lions losses.
For what it’s worth, this isn’t even the first time a last-second longest field goal in NFL history led to a Lions defeat. On Nov. 8, 1970, the Lions led – you guessed it, 17-16 – as New Orleans Saints kicker Tom Dempsey lined up with the holder kneeling 63 yards away from the goalpost.
As then-Lion Alex Karras later described it, the Detroit players laughed as the Saints lined up for the kick, laughed as the ball was snapped, and laughed as Dempsey kicked the ball. They continued laughing, Karras said, for 62 yards.
So, of accursed course, Sunday was déjà vu all over again.
Don Allison is an author, historian and retired editor of The Bryan Times. He can be reached at www.fadedbanner.com.