In this installment of 100 Days, 100 Detroit Lions, we pay tribute to the man who admirably filled the middle linebacker shoes of the legendary, Joe Schmidt, after number old 56 retired following the 1965 season.
31. Mike Lucci
Middle Linebacker. 1965-73 Detroit; 1962-64 Cleveland Browns
When Mike Lucci was pegged in 1966 to replace the recently retired Joe Schmidt at the Lions’ middle linebacker spot, he couldn’t have been asked to fill a bigger pair of shoes anywhere. However, he did have one advantage going for him. . . . The new Lions’ linebacker coach was none other than Joe Schmidt himself.
With Schmidt’s tutelage, and his pupil’s hard work, Mike soon became the best and most underrated middle linebacker in the entire NFL. The underrated part came from the fact that two men, one named Dick Butkus and the other named Ray Nitschke, played in the same “Black-and-Blue” division as Lucci. Nevertheless, there was no doubt that anyone who watched Mike play week-to-week saw a player with all the skills for the 4-3 defense’s most important position.
Lion owner William Clay Ford elevated Joe Schmidt to the Lion head coaching job in 1967, and soon the Leo’s new boss was touting his former apprentice at every opportunity. “The best overall middle linebacker, taking into account direction of the team, pass coverage, mobility and toughness, is Mike Lucci,” declared Schmidt in 1970. Lucci’s defensive coverage abilities earned him total of 21 career interceptions with Detroit. He returned four of those picks for touchdowns. Lucci was voted by his teammates the Lions’ Defensive Most Valuable Player from 1969-71. In addition, he was All-NFL in 1969, NFC All-Conference in 1970-71, and played in the 1972 Pro Bowl.