A long, long time since Lions won road playoff game

Credit: Paul Sancya

Credit: Paul Sancya

The last time the Detroit Lions won a road playoff game ...

Dwight D. Eisenhower was the president.

"Perry Mason" was showing on TV. As an original program. Not reruns.

And Sputnik 2 was orbiting the Earth, the first spacecraft to carry a biological being into space _ Laika, a female dog.

The year was 1957.

The Mackinac Bridge had opened to traffic a month earlier. A gallon of gas cost 24 cents. Elvis Presley was just settling into his new home, called Graceland.

On Dec. 22, 1957, the year of our Lions, this professional football team stunned the San Francisco 49ers, 31-27. It's the most recent road playoff victory in the organization's history.

Since then? The Lions have lost 10 straight road playoff games.

Tonight, the Lions will try it again when they play at the Seattle Seahawks in an NFC wild-card playoff game.

Few expect the Lions to beat the Seahawks _ Seattle is more than a touchdown favorite _ and the image of Charlie Brown trying to kick that football comes to mind.

"How long, O Lord?" Charlie Brown moans, lying flat on his back.

"How long?" Lucy replies, in a comic strip that appeared in 1970, a good 13 years after the Lions' last road playoff victory. "All your life, Charlie Brown. All your life."

Which pretty much sums up the feelings of Lions fans.

History actually on Lions' side?

Now here comes the crazy part, the part that has been lost to history. Few thought that the Lions would win that game in 1957.

Paul Brown, the legendary coach of the Cleveland Browns, admitted that he was focusing on the 49ers as the likely championship opponent. "I was watching it on my television at home here," he said, in an Associated Press story. "And I know I scouted the wrong team for a good part of the afternoon."

But the Lions came from behind to win that game, and Lyall Smith, the Free Press sports editor, wrote: "They won because they wouldn't lose _ that's the way it was as the do-or-die Lions did it.

"They burned the heart out of the San Francisco 49ers and 60,118 of their fans with the second-half heroics.

"And they must've burned the picture tubes out of the umpteen million TV sets all over the land as they picked themselves out of a 27-7 hole in hostile Kezar Stadium to win another squeaker, 31-27."

Picture tubes?

After that win, the Lions were headed to the NFL championship _ whoa, let me pause here to blink and realize that I've never typed that before. Not even close.

"No team ever deserved it more than this pack of Lions," Smith wrote. "Their season has been a hectic one. Their head coach walked out on them two days before their first game. 'Worst team I ever had,' he said. 'I can't do anything with it.'

"It picked itself up from there. It won more than its share of games the hard way. Like the one with Baltimore at Briggs stadium. They trailed at halftime by 17 points in that one ... but won by four."

That '57 team won five of its last eight regular-season games and had a tendency to come from behind.

Hmm. Sound familiar?

This current group of Lions has won five of its last eight games and has a tendency to come from behind.

Now, I'm not saying that anything is being foreshadowed.

It's just interesting.

"Anytime that you have an opportunity to play in the playoffs, just look at the history," said Lions coach Jim Caldwell, this veteran coach who was about to turn 3 years old the last time this franchise won a road playoff game. "You can rattle off a number of different teams that have gone in and perhaps not had the best regular season that they'd like but ended up getting themselves in position to really be a factor in the playoffs. So we're not limited."

True enough.

But history also can be painful, especially for Lions fans. The Lions have lost all eight of their wild-card games.

And Lions fans have suffered something awful. It's like this entire fan base is locked in a prison of despair, like that song by Elvis Presley, released in 1957, the year of our Lions:

"Everybody in the whole cell block

Was dancin' to the Jailhouse Rock"

Probably not, but what if ...

You might know the end of the story, as it has been passed down from generation to generation, lo these many years.

A week after winning that playoff game in San Francisco, the Lions walloped the Cleveland Browns, 59-14, to win the NFL championship.

It was a two-game playoff back then. Seriously. The playoffs lasted eight days.

Now the pregame show lasts about that long.

By the way, the cost to attend that game in 1957? According to a Freep story, it was $10 for upper-deck box seats and $4 for bleachers.

Since that game, since that championship, the Lions have won nothing.

Sure, there was the 1991 playoff victory over the Dallas Cowboys. But that's it.

For nearly 60 years, the Lions have churned through coaches and churned through players and churned through countless fans who have sworn them off, only to return the next season.

So now the Lions head to Seattle for another try _ one of these days, Charlie Brown, one of these days _ and if the Lions can play a perfect game, if they can stop Seattle's running game, if they can block Seattle's defense, if they can corral Seattle's mobile quarterback, if they can get their offense moving and pull out this win, then people will be dancing in the streets, as if Jerry Lee Lewis were at his piano, pounding away at a song released in 1957, in the year of our Lions:

"Come on over baby, whole lotta shakin' goin' on

Yes I said come on over baby, baby you can't go wrong

We ain't fakin', a whole lotta shakin' goin' on."