Hands down, the most memorable game between the Lions and the Broncos did not come during the regular season. The meeting that lives in Broncos lore is a meaningless preseason game that took place at the University of Denver's Hilltop Stadium Aug. 5, 1967.
To quote Wayne Ehler's personal experience at the game (from John Bena's Floyd Little article celebrating Little's induction to the Hall of Fame).
In the summer of 1967 the Broncos couldn't even get into Bears' Stadium to play the Detroit Lions because there was a minor league team scheduled for a baseball game that week. The Broncos played in the old concrete stadium at the University of Denver. It hadn't been used for football for years. I wondered at the time where the players had space to dress. In any case, the Broncos won the game and became the first AFL team to beat an NFL team. Despite the fact that it was "just" a preseason game everyone there had realized how important it was. It was amazing that there were only about 4-5 thousand of us there to watch. I sat behind the Lions' bench and heard the player cat calls against the Broncos. Alex Karras kept yelling about how bad the Broncos were and finally got tossed from the game for fighting. Floyd Little ran around and over Karras and the other Lions for the whole game.
Prior to this game, Karras had stated that if the Lions lost, he'd walk back to Detroit. Good thing he was tossed from the game so he could get a head-start up I-25. The Broncos won, 13-7.
The Modern Era
Our recent history with the Lions has been less legendary.
November 4, 2007
Everyone remembers the 2008 Lions for their historic 0-16 season. The Broncos were the last team the Lions embarrassed on their way to that impressive run. Sure, there was a victory they enjoyed over the Chiefs late in the season, but it paled in comparison to the 44-7 shellacking laid upon Denver in Detroit that doomed November day. Just a few weeks earlier the Broncos were waxed by both the Chargers, 41-3, and Peyton Manning's Colts, 20-38 . This Detroit loss was nothing more than confirmation that the 2007 Broncos were a team going nowhere fast.
The Lions were known to be a horrible team, not having posted a .500 record since the turn of the century. I remember going into week nine thinking this game would be a slam dunk. Not so. Jay Cutler would get injured (shocking) in the second quarter and turn over the offense to backup Patrick Ramsey. With only one touchdown to Brandon Stokely, a two yard pass, and a horrific effort from the Denver defense it was a long day for the Broncos. When you have no quarterback and a defense featuring an old Sam Adams, an old Simeon Rice, and Dre Bly you can see why it got so ugly so fast.
Lions quarterback Jon Kitna had himself a slightly above average day completing 16 of 31 passes for two touchdowns. Interestingly, current wide receiver stud Calvin Johnson was kept to just three receptions for 47 yards.
Looking to Sunday night's matchup, there are two things I am sure of. First, the Broncos defense is much improved over the 2007 edition. In fact, to make a comparison is to insult the awesome that is the 2015 Broncos defense and I apologize for even broaching it in such a way.
Second, Calvin Johnson will have more than three catches for 47 yards. We can also rest easy knowing that Jon Kitna has long since retired and can hurt us no more.
October 30, 2011
Every Broncos fan who witnessed it will remember quarterback Tim Tebow's miraculous triumph over the Dolphins in overtime. Not many Broncos fans remember that the following week, the Lions absolutely embarrassed the Broncos, 45-10.
Let's compare then to now looking at this game recap artfully written by former MHR contributor Troy Hufford following the game.
If you're a Denver Broncos fan, this is a game that you'd like to forget.
The Broncos started the game by driving right down the field, averaging 12.5 yards per carry. Tim Tebow threw over the top to Eric Decker at the back of the end zone, who was called out of bounds by a matter of inches. The Broncos settled for a field goal and it was all down hill from there.
The Lions scored 45 unanswered points. As Forrest Gump would say, "That's all I got to say about that."
With all due respect to Forrest Gump and Troy, there's quite a bit more that can be said about 45 uninterrupted points (it was just pointed out to me that following the 45 points, the Broncos got their lone touchdown). Where the heck was the defense? Can't someone out there tackle? Come on guys, this is Detroit! Seriously, how do you let the Lions wallop you by 35 points?
I wish that it were that simple. It isn't. Tim Tebow struggled, throughout. It was similar to the first 3 quarters of the game in Miami, but this one didn't finish with a happy ending. It may be unprecedented for an NFL offense to go a combined 0 for 18 on 3rd down during the first 3 quarters of consecutive games.
Failing to convert any of eighteen third downs kind of an impressive feat. Clearly, the Broncos had their chances, but failed to extend drives. It's hard to score points when the other team has the ball and, frankly, Denver just kept giving it back to them.
This Sunday makes me a bit nervous. With Manning and Kubiak's offensive schemes seeming to conflict, it's possible that we may see some more of this. Let's not forget that the Broncos offense last Thursday against Kansas City stalled more than Broncos fans are typically used to, especially in the third quarter. It would be a shame to waste this year's terrific defense on a bunch of three-and-outs. Hopefully the offensive discord has been resolved over the long week and this won't be an issue.
I fully expect Tim Tebow to get the majority of the blame for this loss, but the Broncos got beat by the Lions, everywhere. Even the future Hall of Famer, Champ Bailey, was beaten deep for a Calvin Johnson 56 yard touchdown pass. There aren't enough fingers to point out all the mistakes from this loss.
This was a pretty ugly game. The Broncos better get all of this bad football out of the way before their trip to Oakland next week. It would be a shame to suffer another embarrassing loss like the 59-14 beat down in 2010.
Calvin Johnson factored into the 2011 game substantially more than he did in the 2007 matchup. With six receptions for 125 yards and a touchdown, the Broncos clearly had no answer for him. Don't get me wrong, Johnson will get his touches for sure, but with Aqib Talib and Chris Harris, it should be substantially more difficult for him to rack up stats like he did in 2011.
So what's to be learned from the Lions defeats of 2007 and 2011? In both cases, I think we underestimated Detroit. In 2007, the Lions had been so awful for so long, how could Denver lose? In 2011, Tebow mania was just taking off and, with that crazy Miami win, the Broncos may have been a little unrealistic in their expectations of Tim Tebow (you know, like completing passes).
The Broncos of this year have the defensive talent to dominate this game. It will come down to whether the offensive line struggles and offensive disagreement can be overcome. I don't think it'll be a blow-out, but I do know it'll be closer than Broncos fans will be comfortable with. Broncos win in a squeaker.