In this 99th edition of 100 Days 100 Detroit Lions, we pay tribute to the man, the quarterback, the legend . . . Robert Lawrence Layne.
2. Bobby Layne
Quarterback. 1950-58 Detroit; 1948 Chicago Bears; 1949 New York Bulldogs; 1958-62 Pittsburgh Steelers
On a team filled with future Hall-of-Famers, perennial All-Pros, and former college All-Americans, he was the unquestioned leader of them all. Since his untimely trade to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday October 3, 1958, the Detroit Lions have been searching for a signal-caller to fill his shoes. Bobby Layne, at 6-foot-1, 198 pounds wasn’t the greatest passer of his time. His throws often looked like they had been struck in mid-air by an errant shotgun blast. He was never mistaken for the best running quarterback of his day, either. Bobby Layne just won. When the Lions were nursing a lead late in a game, he knew how to keep a defense guessing long enough to run out the clock. Conversely, when they were behind and needed points in a hurry, there was no one better at hitting the big play to steal a victory. Bobby along with head coach Buddy Parker, were the original masters of what is today known as the “two-minute drill.”
From 1950 through 1956, when Layne was the Lions primary quarterback, the team won 69% of its games (54-29-2). During that span, the Lions won three-straight division titles (1952-54), two World Championships (1952-53), and finished a half-game out of first-place two other times (1951 and ‘56). Forty-four years after his Lion career ended, Bobby still holds the team’s career records for passing attempts (2,193), competitions (1,074), yardage (15,710), touchdown passes (118), and interceptions (142).
Bobby was just as legendary off the gridiron. He loved the night life, as well as the music, singing, dancing . . . and drinking that accompanied it. He used these off the field moments to cultivate his teams’ loyalty, not only to himself, but to each other. “Bobby had a little more money than the rest of us,” said Hall of Fame teammate Jack Christiansen, “And he spent it on the team. If we went out to have a few beers, he’d pay for the whole thing. Not only by his ball playing did he get the loyalty from the other players, but also from the other things he did as well.”
The Lions of the 1950’s were loaded with talent on both sides of the ball. Even if Bobby Layne had not been their quarterback, Detroit would still have likely won more games than they would have lost. However, if an NFL team is to achieve true greatness . . . if they are to become a dynasty . . . there is one thing that they must possesses, a difference maker at quarterback. Bobby Layne was the Lions’ difference maker. The best complement this author has ever heard uttered about Bobby Layne came from his former teammate John Prchlik who simply said, “I am not sure we could have done it without him.” I have yet to talk to anyone who disagrees.