Detroit Lions gear up for first home playoff game in over 30 years

The last time the Detroit Lions won a playoff game was in 1991.

Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff (16) passes against the Minnesota Vikings during an NFL football game at Ford Field in Detroit, Sunday, Jan. 7, 2024.

Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff (16) passes against the Minnesota Vikings during an NFL football game at Ford Field in Detroit, Sunday, Jan. 7, 2024.

The NFL begins its post-season this weekend with several compelling story lines beyond touchdowns and tackles. 

Perhaps none more so than the Detroit Lions hosting their first home playoff game in three decades. 

The Lions face the Los Angeles Rams, led by a player who some Detroit fans cannot quite view as the enemy. 

It was about two years ago and veteran Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford had just achieved every NFL players dream — winning the Super Bowl. Except Stafford was no longer the Lions quarterback. He’d engineered a trade that season to the Los Angeles Rams. 

Yet moments after finally holding the championship trophy, Stafford told the NFL Network Detroit fans’ love had followed him to the west coast. 

“It was amazing. There’s no reason for them to cheer for me anymore,” Stafford said. “And the fact that they did was just a true testament to who they are as people, who they are as fans. To have that support all the way across the country here, playing in this game, means the world to me, my wife, my family. They helped us through a bunch of tough times and are a huge reason I’m sitting here today.”  

Stafford suffered through a dozen years of Detroit trying and failing to build a contending team. 

But rather than exalt in his exit to the Rams, he left Detroit a fond farewell video where he told Lions fans, “There is no me without you. That’s why I’m saying thank you, not goodbye.” 

His wife, Kelly Stafford, still hosts a podcast with a Detroit television reporter from WDIV. 

She says returning now to a city where fans watched with concern while she dealt with a highly-publicized brain tumor makes it hard for her not to cheer for the Lions. 

“The support that that city gave us on some of the hardest times of our lives I won’t ever forget,” she said, choking back tears. 

Listen: Detroit Lions gear up for first home playoff game in over 30 years

But instead of rooting for the home team, she’ll watch her husband go against the player Los Angeles traded for Stafford, one who helped Detroit finally build a championship-contender. 

But Lions quarterback Jared Goff says he cannot view the contest as a chance for revenge against a Rams team that gave up on him.  

“I so badly want to win a playoff game for this city that hasn’t had one in so long,” Goff said. “And that’s so much more important than anything personally for me. I want to be a part of this win and do my job to the best of my ability.” 

The Lions last won a playoff game in 1991. 

Now the excitement that the team is not a perennial NFL doormat fills places like Harry’s Sports Bar in the city’s downtown. 

Detroiter Justin Ivory says the new Lions are raising the spirits of a city only a decade removed from declaring bankruptcy. 

“I hear people talking about it all the time. I think it’s very fitting for where Detroit is as a city, as we’re going through this rebirth of sorts, that dare I say one of our most struggling teams historically are getting a rebirth as well. So it’s fitting. It’s poetic, even,” Ivory said. 

Bartender Kelly Campbell added that the NFL could not have written a better script to draw positive attention to the Motor City. 

“Absolutely. We had a family last week come from Alaska just to be in town for the Lions to be in the playoffs,” Campbell said. “People just want to be a part of it. It’s like a Hollywood movie, right?” 

But Detroiters like Aaron McCray fear they might have seen this show before. 

McCray says he was at the Lions last playoff victory in 1991 but stepped back from being a fan as the team became mired in mediocrity. 

And now, he says, Detroit’s finally returning to the playoffs against a Rams squad steered by the beloved Stafford. 

“Lions fans are so used to things going wrong,” McCray said “That’s the ultimate thing that could go wrong is to trade away your quarterback and he comes back and beats you in the playoffs. That would be the most Lions result that there could be.” 

It’s a game where, for certain Detroit fans, victory or defeat will in some ways truly taste bittersweet. 

Although earning that elusive post-season win after three decades may not be all that bittersweet for very long. 

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  • Quinn Klinefelter
    Quinn Klinefelter is a Senior News Editor at 101.9 WDET. In 1996, he was literally on top of the news when he interviewed then-Senator Bob Dole about his presidential campaign and stepped on his feet.