Dan Campbell and the Bobby Layne curse.
Getty Images (left), Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images (center), Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images (right)

The Curse of Bobby Layne: How the Lions Can Break a Decades-Long Hex

Quarterback Bobby Layne cursed the Detroit Lions when he was traded in 1958. Detroit can break the curse with a couple more wins.

The Boston Red Sox suffered for 86 long years before the Curse of the Bambino was broken. A World Series victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in 2004 lifted a lifetime weight off Red Sox fans' shoulders. The clouds had broken up over Fenway Park.

Detroit Lions fans know something about curses, too. Detroit's curse has a similar origin to Boston's: A franchise cornerstone is traded away and the organization descends into irrelevancy. The difference between the Lions and the Red Sox is the Lions haven't come anywhere close to breaking theirs. That was until this season.

Some might say Lions fans are the most tortured fan base in all of sports. Think of any way to lose and Detroit has probably done it. It doesn't stop no matter who is under center, in the front office or calling the plays, the Lions will still find a way add to the loss column.

There are thousands of reasons to blame for the Lions' woes, but many of the Detroit fans believe it all started with fateful words from quarterback Bobby Layne. If the Lions come up short against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship, just remember Layne's name.

What Is the Curse of Bobby Layne?

Bbobby Layne runs against the Cleveland Browns.

George Gelatly/Getty Images

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Believe it or not, there was a time when the Lions were the NFL's cream of the crop. A good chunk of the team's success can be attributed to Layne.

Layne, a college football legend at Texas, arrived in the Motor City in his third professional season. He hit the ground running, establishing himself as a top QB in the game. As Layne went, so did the Lions. He led the franchise to NFL championships in 1952, 1953 and 1957.

For all his success on the field, Layne loved to have fun off it. He would show up to games drunk and still lead the Lions to a win. He would get in trouble with the law. They all started to add up. Throw in a broken leg against the Cleveland Browns late in the 1957 season and the front office had reason to move on from their franchise QB.

They made their move in October 1958 by trading Layne to the Pittsburgh Steelers for quarterback Earl Morrall and two draft picks. (A reminder that Layne was a guy who won three titles, played in four Pro Bowls and made First Team All-Pro twice in eight years.) The disgruntled Layne responded by saying the Lions wouldn't win for 50 years.

The Lions were sent into oblivion with one quote.

The Lions' Awful Luck Since Layne's Curse

Calvin Johnson walks down the steps into the locker room at Ford Field.

Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

Since then, Detroit's lone playoff win was in 1991 — until Jared Goff and the 2023 team defeated the Los Angeles Rams and then the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in this year's playoffs.

The Lions are still one of four franchises in NFL history to have never played in a Super Bowl. It gets more depressing when you realize two of the other four, the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars, haven't even existed for 30 years.

The Michigan-based NFL team has seen head coaches come and go. They've had more No. 1 overall picks than they know what to do with, like Matthew Stafford. They've had two of the best players ever at their respective positions, Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson, retire in their primes.

But the curse of Bobby Layne may very well be history now that this Lions team is thriving under head coach Dan Campbell.

Lions Head Coach Dan Campbell Responds to the Curse

Dan Campbell pumps his fist with the Lions.

Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Campbell, who played three seasons of his career in Detroit, was asked about the curse in 2022 and said he doesn't believe in it.

"I don't, man," Campbell said. "I do not. I can't go there, I'm not gonna allow myself to go there. I just feel like, for me as a coach and for us as players, that's an excuse and I think you create your own vibe, your own mojo. You create your own energy, and the more you buy into that and believe that, that's what you become. So, no, I'm not buying that."

And when Peyton Manning and actor Jeff Daniels attempted to "lift" the curse in January 2023, Eli Manning asked Campbell if it had done the trick:

Hey, he's right. They did start winning. Maybe all it took was beating Stafford in front of Detroit fans to officially "break" the curse. Either way, this team looks far from a cursed one.

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