Detroit Lions Hall of Fame Players: A Complete History

Updated on May 1, 2020
Lions Hall of Famers Barry Sanders (left) and Lem Barney are seen before a 2016 game against the Bears at Ford Field in Detroit.
Lions Hall of Famers Barry Sanders (left) and Lem Barney are seen before a 2016 game against the Bears at Ford Field in Detroit. | Source

How Many Detroit Lions Are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame?

The Lions have a storied history as one of the oldest teams in the NFL, and as such, they have developed and watched some of the best players to ever grace a professional football field. Going into the 2020 induction ceremonies, there are 20 individuals enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, who spent at least one season with the Lions (6.1% of the 326 individuals inducted). Among them, 14 played a significant portion of their career in Detroit.

Included on the list is one of the greatest running backs to ever play in the NFL, four standout defenders who played at least 11 seasons with the Lions, and numerous players who helped lead Detroit to three championships during the 1950s. With titles in 1952, '53, and '57, the 1950s featured the greatest dynasty in Lions history, and seven of Detroit's Hall of Famers were prominently featured on those championship teams.

Lions Hall of Famers

What follows is a list of every Hall of Famer who has played at least one game for the Lions. The players are listed in order by the number of seasons each spent with Detroit.

Joe Schmidt

  • Position: Linebacker/coach
  • College: Pittsburgh
  • Seasons Played: 1953–65
  • Seasons With the Lions: 1953–65
  • Seasons Coached: 1966–72
  • Seasons Coached With the Lions: 1966–72
  • Year Inducted: 1973
  • Stats: 24 interceptions, 3 defensive TDs
  • Awards: NFL Defensive MVP (1960, '63), NFL Lineman of the Year ('57)
  • Legacy Honors: NFL Top 100 All-Time Team, NFL 1950s All-Decade Team
  • All-Pro: 1954–62
  • Pro Bowl: 1954–63

During a 13-year playing career with the Lions, Joe Schmidt was among the best defenders in the league and revolutionized the middle linebacker position. With 10 straight Pro Bowl and nine straight All-Pro selections, Schmidt burst onto the scene—despite being selected as a seventh-round draft pick. He didn't miss a start throughout his first seven years in the league, and his prowess in the middle of the field helped the Lions finish in the top three in scoring defense in three of those seasons. Detroit also won a pair of NFL championships during Schmidt's tenure.

In 1955, Schmidt tied the NFL record by recovering eight fumbles lost by his opponents (the mark was broken in 1963), and his 17 career fumble recoveries are tied for the most in team history among defenders. He set his career-high with six interceptions in 1958, a nice continuation of his postseason success in 1957. That year, he intercepted a pass in playoff wins over the San Francisco 49ers and the Cleveland Browns, which helped bring the Lions their third NFL championship in six seasons.

Schmidt sustained a shoulder injury in the 1960 preseason, which forced him to miss the first games in his career. Once he came back to the field, however, he returned an interception for the first touchdown of his career. Over his final five seasons, Schmidt started every game of a campaign three times, and in both 1961 and 1965, he had four interceptions. He announced his retirement in March 1966 and joined the Lions as an assistant coach. The next season, he was promoted to head coach, and was involved with the drafting of multiple future Hall of Famers. Schmidt had a 43-34-7 record in Detroit and led the Lions to the playoffs in 1970. By the end of his coaching tenure in 1972, he had served the Lions for 20 straight seasons.

Former Lions defensive back Dick LeBeau serves as the defensive coordinator for the Titans during the 2017 seasons. Between his playing days with the Lions and his seasons as a coach, LeBeau spent 59 years in the NFL.
Former Lions defensive back Dick LeBeau serves as the defensive coordinator for the Titans during the 2017 seasons. Between his playing days with the Lions and his seasons as a coach, LeBeau spent 59 years in the NFL. | Source

Dick LeBeau

  • Position: Defensive Back
  • College: Ohio State
  • Seasons Played: 1959–72
  • Seasons With the Lions: 1959–72
  • Year Inducted: 2010
  • Stats: 62 interceptions, 4 TDs
  • All-Pro: 1964–65, '70
  • Pro Bowl: 1964–66

Dick LeBeau spent 14 seasons as a defensive back for the Lions, and despite season after season of strong play, he is just as remembered for his time as a defensive coordinator. He was drafted in the fifth round of the 1959 NFL Draft by the Browns but was cut in the preseason. LeBeau then came to Detroit, and by 1960, was slated in the starting lineup and rarely missed time until he retired in 1972.

LeBeau became a ball-hawking defensive back, intercepting at least four passes in all but one season between 1960 and '71, which included a career-high nine in 1970. His career total of 62 is tied for 10th in NFL history and stands as the team's all-time record. In four separate seasons, LeBeau snared a pair of interceptions in two different games.

Following his playing career, LeBeau revolutionized NFL defenses by perfecting the zone blitz as a defensive coordinator. When he retired from coaching in 2017, he had spent 59 straight seasons in the NFL.

Lions Hall of Famer Lem Barney arrives at the 2017 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremonies at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio.
Lions Hall of Famer Lem Barney arrives at the 2017 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremonies at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio. | Source

Lem Barney

  • Position: Cornerback
  • College: Jackson State
  • Seasons Played: 1967–77
  • Seasons With the Lions: 1967–77
  • Year Inducted: 1992
  • Stats: 56 interceptions, 10 total TDs
  • Awards: Defensive Rookie of the Year (1967)
  • Legacy Honors: Pride of the Lions
  • All-Pro: 1968–69
  • Pro Bowl: 1967–69, 1972–73, 1975–76

Throughout 11 seasons with the Lions, Lem Barney was among the best defensive backs in the NFL. With multiple interceptions every season, Barney is remembered as one of Detroit's best defenders of all-time and is tied for 18th all-time in NFL history for career interceptions.

Barney was a second-round draft pick in 1967, and made an immediate contribution for the Lions. He intercepted Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr in the first quarter of his debut and returned it 24 yards for a touchdown. After four weeks, Barney already had six interceptions for the 3-0-1 Lions. He'd cool considerably in the middle of the season, but then electrified a home crowd with three interceptions in the season finale. That showing gave him an NFL-leading 10 interceptions on the season, which he returned for a league-best 232 yards and three touchdowns. Those touchdowns remain a single-season franchise record.

In 1968, Barney led the NFL with five fumble recoveries, while adding another seven interceptions, and he had 15 more interceptions throughout the next two seasons. By the end of his career, he snared 56 interceptions, which ranks second on Detroit's all-time list. His 1,077 interception return yards and seven touchdowns are both franchise records, and Barney is also tied for the all-time team lead among defenders with 17 career fumble recoveries.

Lions Hall of Famer Yale Lary is pictured on his 1952 Bowman football card.
Lions Hall of Famer Yale Lary is pictured on his 1952 Bowman football card. | Source

Yale Lary

  • Position: Defensive back/Punter
  • College: Texas A&M
  • Seasons Played: 1952–53, 1956–64
  • Seasons With the Lions: 1952–53, 1956–64
  • Year Inducted: 1979
  • Stats: 50 interceptions, 503 punts for 22,279 yards
  • Legacy Honors: NFL 1950s All-Decade Team, Pride of the Lions
  • All-Pro: 1956–59, 1962–63
  • Pro Bowl: 1953, 1956–62, '64

After being taken as a third-round draft pick in 1952, Yale Lary was a dependable defender and punter for the Lions for more than a decade. Other than missing two seasons due to military service, Lary played in all but seven games throughout an 11-year career. He grabbed at least two interceptions every season as a safety, while doubling as the team's punter. Lary led the NFL in punting average in three seasons.

In his first two seasons, he helped the Lions win the NFL championship, and he picked up a third title in 1957. In each of those seasons, Detroit defeated the Browns for the league crown. Following his military service in 1954 and '55, Lary returned to the Lions and had his best season. In 1956, he intercepted a career-high eight passes and returned one for a 73-yard touchdown. He was joined in the defensive backfield at times throughout his career by three other Hall of Famers.

Known as one of the greatest punters in the history of the league, Lary had an average of 44.3 yards on 503 punts, and booted a punt at least 60 yards in all but two seasons. He's ranked 32nd all-time in punting average, but when he retired, Lary was second only to fellow Hall of Famer Sammy Baugh. Among players whose careers began before 2000, he is ranked third. Lary led the NFL in punting average in each 1959 (47.1 yards per punt), 1961 (48.4 YPP), and 1963 (48.9 YPP). His mark from 1963 is tied for the 16th-best mark in NFL history.

Lions Hall of Famer Barry Sanders smiles before a 2017 game against the Steelers at Ford Field in Detroit.
Lions Hall of Famer Barry Sanders smiles before a 2017 game against the Steelers at Ford Field in Detroit. | Source

Barry Sanders

  • Position: Running Back
  • College: Oklahoma State
  • Seasons Played: 1989–98
  • Seasons With the Lions: 1989–98
  • Year Inducted: 2004
  • Stats: 15,269 rushing yards, 99 TDs
  • Awards: Offensive Rookie of the Year (1989), NFL MVP (1997), NFL Offensive Player of the Year (1994, '97), Bert Bell Award (1991, '97)
  • Legacy Honors: NFL All-Time 100 Team, NFL 1990s All-Decade Team, Pride of the Lions
  • All-Pro: 1989–98
  • Pro Bowl: 1989–98

Sanders burst onto the scene as a rookie after being selected with the third pick in the 1989 NFL Draft. Despite missing training camp due to a contract dispute, he finished 11 yards shy of the league rushing title to win Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. Sanders closed his season with a 158-yard, 3-touchdown showing against the Falcons. He'd lead the league in rushing in 1990, then had a breakout season in 1991.

Sanders eclipsed the 1,500-yard rushing mark for the first time that season, while adding a 220-yard, 4-touchdown game against the Vikings. Detroit won 12 games in 1991, and Sanders helped the Lions to their only playoff victory since 1957. He'd again lead the league in rushing in 1994, '96, and '97, which is when he became the third player in history to rush for at least 2,000 yards in a season. Sanders had 10 games with at least 100 yards in 1994, and that included a career-high 237-yard effort against the Buccaneers.

The best season during Sanders' career was his MVP season of 1997. He gained 2,053 yards and rushed for at least 100 yards in the last 14 games of the season to set an NFL record. Included in that stretch were a pair of games with more than 200 yards, and he added 11 touchdowns during the year. It was the fourth straight season for Sanders with at least 1,500 rushing yards—no other player in league history has accomplished the feat. He nearly added a fifth such season when he gained 1,491 yards on a league-high 343 carries in 1998.

Charlie Sanders

  • Position: Tight End
  • College: Minnesota
  • Seasons Played: 1968–77
  • Seasons With the Lions: 1968–77
  • Year Inducted: 2007
  • Stats: 4,817 receiving yards, 31 TDs
  • Legacy Honors: NFL 1970s All-Decade Team, Pride of the Lions
  • All-Pro: 1969–71
  • Pro Bowl: 1968–71, 1974–76

In 1968, the Lions found themselves with their starting tight end for the next 10 seasons in Charlie Sanders, a third-round draft selection. As a dependable blocker and adequate receiver, Sanders was among the NFL's premier players at his position throughout the 1970s. It's likely he would have played longer, but a severe knee injury ended his career before the 1977 season. After retirement, he stayed with the Lions as a scout, coach, and broadcaster.

Playing in an era when tight ends were relied on as blockers more so than pass catchers, Sanders helped evolve the position with at least 40 catches in each of his first 3 seasons. He retired with the team record of 336 receptions, which wasn't broken until Herman Moore eclipsed the mark in 1996—while being coached by Sanders. He's now seventh all-time in team history, but still has the most receptions, yards (4,817), and touchdowns (31) by a Detroit tight end.

Sanders was the only rookie selected to the Pro Bowl for the 1968 season, and he'd go on to make six more appearances. He closed his rookie season with a career-high 10 catches for 133 yards against the Redskins, and in 1974, he had his career-best yardage total of 146 in a win over the Packers.

Lou Creekmur

  • Position: Offensive Lineman
  • College: William & Mary
  • Seasons Played: 1950–59
  • Seasons With the Lions: 1950–59
  • Year Inducted: 1996
  • Legacy Honors: Pride of the Lions
  • All-Pro: 1951–57
  • Pro Bowl: 1950–57

Lou Creekmur was nothing if not durable. He happened to be a pretty good offensive lineman, too. As a sturdy force up front for the Lions during the 1950s, Creekmur never missed a practice and did not miss a preseason, regular season, or postseason game during the first nine years of his 10-year career—all while helping Detroit win championships in 1952, '53, and '57. Despite that and his many All-Pro and Pro Bowl selections, it took 32 years for him to finally win election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Creekmur began his career as an offensive guard, but he switched to left tackle after two seasons and dominated that side of the line for many years. He was a 26th-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1948, but Creekmur elected to keep playing in college. The Lions then acquired his rights in 1950, and watched him block for several high-flying offenses. From 1950 to '57, the Lions never finished worse than fifth in total offense, and only twice finished outside the top five in scoring offense.

Toward the end of 1958, Creekmur announced he would be retiring at the end of what would become only the second losing season during his career. When the Lions began the 1959 season at 0–4, they summoned Creekmur, who returned for the final eight games of the season to help salvage a 3-8-1 record.

Bobby Layne on a 1953 magazine cover after leading the Lions to the NFL championship the year before.
Bobby Layne on a 1953 magazine cover after leading the Lions to the NFL championship the year before. | Source

Bobby Layne

  • Position: Quarterback
  • College: Texas
  • Seasons Played: 1948–62
  • Seasons With the Lions: 1950–58
  • Year Inducted: 1967
  • Stats: 26,768 passing yards, 196 TDs
  • Awards: NFL 1950s All-Decade Team, Pride of the Lions, Lions No. 22 Retired
  • All-Pro: 1952, '54, '56, 1958–59
  • Pro Bowl: 1951–53, '56, 1958–59

Bobby Layne played for four different NFL teams, but many of his best seasons came during the nine years he spent with the Lions. There was, however, a lot of travel in the two years leading up to his acquisition. Originally drafted by the Steelers in 1948, Layne was then traded to the Bears after the draft, and going into the 1949 season, he was sent to the New York Bulldogs. When he arrived in Detroit in 1950, Layne began to develop into a Hall of Fame quarterback.

Layne's passing offenses finished no worse than sixth in the NFL standings while in Detroit, and he helped engineer NFL championship wins in 1952, '53, and '57, though he did not play in the 1957 title game due to a broken leg. In 1950, Layne led the NFL in passing attempts and yardage, and during the next season, he paced the NFL in attempts, completions, yards, and touchdowns. He was steady over the next five seasons, keeping his passing yards between 1,800 and 2,100 each year.

In 1950, Layne threw for 374 yards against the Bears for his top passing performance with the Lions, and he also had three games in Detroit where he threw four touchdowns. Overall with the Lions, he had a 53-29-2 record, and his 15,710 passing yards and 118 touchdowns stood as team records for more than 50 years. Layne struggled in the postseason, however, throwing 12 interceptions to one touchdown, but he did secure a 3-1 record.

Lions Hall of Famer Alex Wojciechowicz (50) is pictured with fellow linemen Emil Uremovich, Frank Szymanski and Stan Batinski in a 1946 Associated Press photo.
Lions Hall of Famer Alex Wojciechowicz (50) is pictured with fellow linemen Emil Uremovich, Frank Szymanski and Stan Batinski in a 1946 Associated Press photo. | Source

Alex Wojciechowicz

  • Position: Center, Linebacker
  • College: Fordham
  • Seasons Played: 1938–50
  • Seasons With the Lions: 1938–46
  • Year Inducted: 1968
  • Stats: 19 interceptions
  • Legacy Honors: NFL 1940s All-Decade Team, Pride of the Lions, Polish Sports Hall of Fame (1975)
  • All-Pro: 1939, '44

Alex Wojciechowicz was a first-round draft pick of the Lions in 1938, and became a regular on the team's offense and defense for the next nine seasons. Wojciechowicz played in 86 games for Detroit as a rare two-way player. Defensively as a linebacker, he scored his only career touchdown in 1940 on one of his 14 interceptions with the Lions. Included in that total were seven in 1944, which was Detroit’s single-season record for several years, and his career total was a franchise record until the 1950s. He also served as the team's center. Because of his two-way status, he was known as “Iron Man.”

He was released with two other Lions players following a 0-3 start to the 1946 season, and he was purchased by the Eagles two days later. Wojciechowicz, who became exclusively a linebacker, won a pair of NFL championships in Philadelphia.

Lions Hall of Famer Jack Christiansen is pictured on his 1952 Bowman football card.
Lions Hall of Famer Jack Christiansen is pictured on his 1952 Bowman football card. | Source

Jack Christiansen

  • Position: Safety
  • College: Colorado A&M
  • Seasons Played: 1951–58
  • Seasons With the Lions: 1951–58
  • Year Inducted: 1970
  • Stats: 46 interceptions, 3 TDs
  • Awards: NFL 1950s All-Decade Team, Pride of the Lions
  • All-Pro: 1952–57
  • Pro Bowl: 1953–57

Jack Christiansen was a steady hand in the secondary for the Lions after being taken as a sixth-round draft pick in 1951. He worked his way into the starting lineup as a rookie, and became one of several Hall of Famers in Detroit's defense to hold down opponents in the 1950s. He led the league in interceptions twice, and held the NFL record with eight punt returns for touchdowns when he retired in 1958. He remains tied for fourth all-time.

As a rookie, Christiansen established a still-standing NFL record by returning four punts for touchdowns, and four other players have since accomplished the same feat. Christiansen needed just two games to establish the record, scoring twice against each the Rams and Packers. After helping the Lions win the NFL championship in 1952, Christiansen had a breakout season the following year. He matched the franchise record with 12 interceptions and added three fumble recoveries on the way to another championship.

Christiansen remained a standout and broke out again in 1957, when he led the league with 10 interceptions and picked up his third championship with the Lions. He briefly held the franchise's career record for interceptions with 46, and is now fourth all-time. Following his retirement in 1958, he coached in the NFL for 25 years.

Lions Hall of Famer Doak Walker is pictured during his college career at Southern Methodist University.
Lions Hall of Famer Doak Walker is pictured during his college career at Southern Methodist University. | Source

Doak Walker

  • Position: Running Back, Kicker
  • College: Southern Methodist
  • Seasons Played: 1950–55
  • Seasons With the Lions: 1950–55
  • Year Inducted: 1986
  • Stats: 1,520 rushing yards, 2,539 receiving yards, 534 points
  • Awards: Rookie of the Year (1950)
  • Legacy Honors: Pride of the Lions, Lions No. 37 Retired
  • All-Pro: 1950–51, 1953–54
  • Pro Bowl: 1950–51, 1953–55

Doak Walker did a little bit of everything for the Lions. As an All-American and Heisman Trophy winner as a running back at Southern Methodist University, Walker came into the NFL with high expectations. And while his statistics weren't necessarily eye-popping, his versatility made him a valuable commodity to a team that would win a pair of NFL championships during Walker's tenure.

As a rookie, Walker had 920 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns, while adding 8 field goals and 38 extra points. By involving himself in so many aspects of the game, Walker helped the Lions finish in the top five in total offense every season he played and in scoring offense in all but the 1955 season. He led the league with 43 extra points in both 1951 and '54, and he booted a career-high 12 field goals in 1953.

He retired after just six seasons to pursue other business interests, and was immediately honored by the team. His jersey number became the second ever to be unofficially retired by the Lions, but he didn't make it to the Hall of Fame for three decades.

Lions Hall of Famer Dick "Night Train" Lane was one of the best defensive players in the NFL during his playing days.
Lions Hall of Famer Dick "Night Train" Lane was one of the best defensive players in the NFL during his playing days. | Source

Dick "Night Train" Lane

  • Position: Cornerback
  • College: Scottsbluff JC
  • Seasons Played: 1952–65
  • Seasons With the Lions: 1960–65
  • Year Inducted: 1974
  • Stats: 68 interceptions, 6 TDs
  • Legacy Honors: NFL 100 Team, NFL 75th Anniversary Team, NFL 1950s All-Decade Team, Pride of the Lions
  • All-Pro: 1955, '56, '58, 1961–63
  • Pro Bowl: 1954–56, '58, 1960–62

After establishing himself as one of the best defensive players in the NFL, Dick "Night Train" Lane came to the Lions to close his career. Lane was traded to the Lions in the 1960 preseason, and he quickly established the fans' trust by racking up four interceptions through six games, making him a favorite for six seasons. A major knee injury took its toll over the last two years of his career, but even today, he is still regarded as one of the best defensive backs ever to play professionally.

In his first season with the Lions, Lane intercepted Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas and returned it for an 80-yard touchdown, and two games later, he picked off two passes against the 49ers. In the opening games of the 1961 and '63 seasons, Lane had two interceptions to set each of those campaigns into positive motion. After 20 interceptions in four seasons, Lane's career was derailed starting in 1964. He'd play just seven games each of the next two seasons after a knee injury.

Known as one of the most ferocious tacklers of all-time, Lane was the only Lions player represented on the NFL's 75th Anniversary Team, which was revealed in 1994. In 66 games with the Lions, Lane intercepted 21 passes and returned them 272 yards. He also recovered four fumbles. Following his retirement, he remained with the Lions as a special assistant to Lions owner William Clay Ford through 1972.

Dutch Clark

  • Position: All-Purpose
  • College: Colorado College
  • Seasons Played: 1931–32, 1934–38
  • Seasons With the Lions: 1931–32, 1934–38
  • Seasons Coached: 1937–42, '49
  • Seasons Coached With the Lions: 1937–38
  • Year Inducted: 1963
  • Stats: 1,507 passing yards, 2,772 rushing yards, 36 rushing TDs
  • Legacy Honors: NFL Top 100 All-Time Team, NFL 1930s All-Decade Team, Associated Press Player of the Decade (1930s), Pride of the Lions, Lions No. 7 Retired
  • All-Pro: 1931–32, 1934–37

Dutch Clark, also known as "The Flying Dutchman," was among the most popular football figures in the 1930s. As a versatile offensive force, Clark regularly scored touchdowns as a quarterback, running back, and receiver, and was a league-leading kicker in several seasons. While the Lions do not officially retire numbers, there was a ceremony held on Oct. 15, 1939, to honor Clark and no one has worn his No. 7 since.

Clark's NFL career began when he was granted a leave from his coaching duties at Colorado College in 1931. In two seasons with the Portsmouth Spartans—who relocated to Detroit and became the Lions in 1934—Clark became an All-Pro talent, but elected to return to college coaching at the Colorado School of Mines in 1933. He returned to the NFL with the Lions right before the 1934 season, and became a superstar. Clark led the league in rushing touchdowns in 1934, '36 and '37. In 1935 and '36, he paced the NFL in total points scored, and he helped lead the Lions to the 1935 league championship.

Clark played 75 games and amassed 2,772 rushing yards, 1,507 passing yards and 341 receiving yards. He scored 42 total touchdowns, and kicked 72 extra points and 15 field goals for 369 career points. In two seasons as player-coach of the Lions, Clark had back-to-back 7–4 records in 1937 and ‘38. He was one of 11 players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s inaugural induction class.

The bust of Lions legend Dick Stanfel is seen during the 2016 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio.
The bust of Lions legend Dick Stanfel is seen during the 2016 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio. | Source

Dick Stanfel

  • Position: Offensive Guard
  • College: San Francisco
  • Seasons Played: 1952–58
  • Seasons With the Lions: 1952–55
  • Year Inducted: 2016
  • Awards: NFL 1950s All-Decade Team, Pride of the Lions
  • All-Pro: 1953–54, 1956–58
  • Pro Bowl: 1953, 1955–58

Dick Stanfel played the first four years of a seven-year career with the Lions, helping pave the way for a prolific offense that won a pair of NFL championships. The offensive guard was selected with the 19th pick of the 1951 NFL Draft, but was unable to play that season due to a knee injury he sustained in a college All-Star game. Once he recovered, however, Stanfel became one of the best offensive linemen in the NFL.

He helped the 1952 Lions to the NFL championship by blocking for the NFL's No. 2 offense. The following season, he was named the team's Most Valuable Player as the Lions held the No. 3 rushing attack on the way to a second straight title. Stanfel missed several games in 1954 due to a back injury but still contributed to the NFL's No. 1 scoring offense. The next year, he faced a spinal injury as the Lions fell to their first losing season since 1949, and he was traded to the Redskins. He made three straight Pro Bowl appearances in Washington and later spent 31 seasons as an assistant coach.

Pro Football Hall of Famer Curley Culp waves to the crowd during the Grand Parade before the 2019 enshrinement ceremony in Canton, Ohio.
Pro Football Hall of Famer Curley Culp waves to the crowd during the Grand Parade before the 2019 enshrinement ceremony in Canton, Ohio. | Source

Hall of Famers Who Made a Stop With the Lions

While the bulk of the Hall of Famers who represent the Detroit Lions played most of their career with the team, several other legends only made quick stops in Detroit. The six players who spent three or fewer seasons with the Lions are featured below.

Bill Dudley

  • Position: Running Back
  • College: Virginia
  • Seasons Played: 1942, 1945–51, '53
  • Seasons With the Lions: 1947–49
  • Year Inducted: 1966
  • Stats: 36 offensive TDs, 23 interceptions
  • Awards: NFL MVP (1946)
  • Legacy Honors: NFL 1940s All-Decade Team
  • All-Pro: 1942, '46
  • Pro Bowl: 1950–51

Bill Dudley came to the Lions via a trade with the Steelers, and became the highest-paid player in Detroit history. His only full season with Detroit came in 1949, but during his tenure, Dudley had 801 rushing yards, 775 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns. Additionally, he played special teams as a punter, kicker and return man, and on defense where he had seven fumble recoveries, six interceptions and a touchdown. He spent three seasons with the Steelers before coming to the Lions, and finished his career with three seasons for the Redskins.

John Henry Johnson

  • Position: Running Back
  • College: Arizona State/St. Mary's (Calif.)
  • Seasons Played: 1954–66
  • Seasons With the Lions: 1957–59
  • Year Inducted: 1987
  • Stats: 6,803 rushing yards, 48 TDs
  • All-Pro: 1962
  • Pro Bowl: 1954, 1962–64

The Lions traded for John Henry Johnson prior to the 1957 season, and he made himself a player to remember by helping Detroit win an NFL championship. Injuries would ail him in 1958, and he faced team discipline in 1959 after missing a team plane. In three seasons with the Lions, he rushed for 1,145 yards and seven touchdowns. He was traded to the Steelers after the 1959 season.

Curley Culp

  • Position: Defensive Tackle
  • College: Arizona State
  • Seasons Played: 1968–81
  • Seasons With the Lions: 1980–81
  • Year Inducted: 2013
  • Stats: 13 fumble recoveries
  • Awards: NEA NFL Defensive Player of the Year (1975)
  • All-Pro: 1975, 1978–79
  • Pro Bowl: 1969, '71, 1975–78

The Lions signed Curley Culp in 1980 after he was waived by the Houston Oilers and Redskins during the season to bolster a defensive line that was hoping to lead Detroit into the playoffs. The Lions fell one win shy of the division title, and Culp would retire after a handful of games in 1981. He played just five total games with the Lions after building a reputation as one of the NFL’s strongest defensive lineman with the Chiefs and Houston Oilers.

Ollie Matson

  • Position: Running Back
  • College: San Francisco
  • Seasons Played: 1952, 1954–66
  • Seasons With the Lions: 1963
  • Year Inducted: 1972
  • Stats: 5,173 rushing yards, 40 TDs, 23 receiving TDs
  • Legacy Honors: NFL 1950s All-Decade Team
  • All-Pro: 1952, 1954–57
  • Pro Bowl: 1952, 1954–58

Ollie Matson played one season with the Detroit Lions, but didn't leave a lasting mark on franchise history. In eight games, he gained just 40 offensive yards and had 61 yards returning kicks, leaving 1963 as the only year in his career that he didn't score a touchdown. Matson also played for the Cardinals, Rams and Eagles.

Frank Gatski

  • Position: Center
  • College: Marshall/Auburn
  • Seasons Played: 1946–57
  • Seasons With the Lions: 1957
  • Year Inducted: 1985
  • All-Pro: 1952–55
  • Pro Bowl: 1956

Frank Gatski knew how to win championships. Gatski joined the Lions in 1957 after picking up seven titles with the Browns from 1946 to ‘56. He won another in 1957—by beating the Browns. Gatski was a true ironman, having played every game of his career and never missing a practice.

Hugh McElhenny

  • Position: Running Back
  • College: Washington
  • Seasons Played: 1952–64
  • Seasons With the Lions: 1964
  • Year Inducted: 1970
  • Stats: 5,281 rushing yards, 38 TDs, 20 receiving TDs
  • Legacy Honors: NFL 1950s All-Decade Team
  • All-Pro: 1952–54, 1956–57
  • Pro Bowl: 1952–53, 1956–58, '61

Hugh McElhenny closed a Hall of Fame career with one season for the Detroit Lions. He was most known for his exploits with the San Francisco 49ers, and while with Detroit, McElhenny only appeared in eight games. He gained 64 offensive yards and had 72 return yards.

Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson scores a touchdown while being pressured by Eagles cornerback Eric Rowe during the second quarter of a Thanksgiving Day game at Ford Field in 2015.
Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson scores a touchdown while being pressured by Eagles cornerback Eric Rowe during the second quarter of a Thanksgiving Day game at Ford Field in 2015. | Source

Potential Detroit Lions Hall of Famers in Waiting

There are numerous players who spent a lengthy amount of time with the Lions who have a chance to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in the coming years. Here is a rundown of the top players in team history not yet enshrined in Canton.

Players Eligible in 2020

Among the 122 players named on the Modern-Era Committee nomination list for 2020, there were three who have ties to the Lions. Kicker Jason Hanson, offensive lineman Lomas Brown and linebacker Chris Spielman each made the list of players who all played after 1970, though none advanced to the semifinals of the voting.

Hanson played 21 seasons in Detroit and holds franchise records for field goals made (495) and points (2,150). In NFL history, he is fourth in all-time scoring, and his 327 games with the Lions are the most any player has played for one team. He was a two-time Pro Bowler, had 17 game-winning kicks in his career and holds the NFL record with 189 made field goals of at least 40 yards and 52 made field goals of at least 50 yards (his career-long went 56 yards).

Brown was a standout for the Lions from 1985 to '95, starting 163 games before departing Detroit. He earned seven straight Pro Bowl selections with the Lions, and was named an All-Pro three times by the Associated Press. He blocked up front during three seasons when Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders rushed for at least 1,500 yards.

Spielman started 124 games throughout eight seasons with the Lions. In Detroit, Spielman had a franchise-record 1,138 tackles, 12 forced fumbles, 10.5 sacks, and four interceptions, while making four Pro Bowls and earning three All-Pro selections. He had a league-leading and career-high 195 tackles in 1994.

2020 Centennial Class

For the NFL's 100th season, the Hall of Fame will be inducting a special Centennial Class, former Lions defensive lineman Alex Karras was selected for induction and will become the 21st Detroit player in the Hall of Fame. Other finalists for that class included former offensive lineman Ox Emerson and coach Buddy Parker.

Calvin Johnson

The greatest wide receiver in franchise history is Calvin Johnson, and he is expected to contend for induction into the Hall of Fame when he first becomes eligible in 2021. Nicknamed "Megatron," Johnson was a league-leading receiver in the NFL for several seasons of his nine-year career. He set the NFL's single-season receiving record, with 1,964 yards in 2012, and his single-game high of 329 yards is second in NFL history.

Johnson owns Detroit's franchise records with 1,312 career receptions for 11,619 yards and 83 touchdowns. His 16 touchdowns in 2011 are also a single-season team record. Throughout his career, Johnson was selected for six Pro Bowls and four All-Pro teams.

Alex Karras

Many Detroit fans have asked the question, "Is Alex Karras in the Hall of Fame?" Now, they can finally answer that question with a resounding, "Yes!" Karras has all the qualifications expected of a Hall of Famer, but some off-the-field concerns are believed to have left him out of Canton for so many years. He was suspended in 1963 due to gambling, a negative mark on his stellar on-field record that saw him make four Pro Bowls and earn seven All-Pro selections from the Associated Press. He was also a member of the NFL All-Decade Team of the 1960s, and he’s been credited with 97.5 sacks in his 12-year career, even though sacks weren’t an official statistic when he played. But with the special Centennial Class of 2020, Karras finally got his due and will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Other Detroit Lions Legends

Some additional players who were standouts for several years with the Lions but aren't enshrined in Canton include guard Ox Emerson (1931–37), safety Jim David (1952–59), tackle Roger Brown (1960–66), tackle Doug English (1975–85), receiver Herman Moore (1991–2001), tackle Roger Porcher (1992–2003), and quarterback Matthew Stafford (2009–present).

Former Lions kicker Jason Hanson (left) talks to fellow kicker Matt Prater before a 2015 game against the Packers at Ford Field in Detroit.
Former Lions kicker Jason Hanson (left) talks to fellow kicker Matt Prater before a 2015 game against the Packers at Ford Field in Detroit. | Source

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