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Did You Know?
Although it's become a laughingstock
this century, there was a time when the
Lions' annual Thanksgiving Day game
was a classic event.
Detroit was known for two things on
Turkey Day: The Hudson's Parade down
Woodward Avenue in the morning and
the Lions vs (usually) Chicago or Green
Bay in the early afternoon at
The most famous Lions Thanksgiving
game ever was in 1962 when the
"Fearsome Foursome" Detroit defense
sacked Packers QBack Bart Starr 11
times for 110-yards in loses. The Lions
defeated the previously unbeaten Green
Bay squad 26-14 before a crowd of more than 57-thousand.
DID YOU KNOW the Lions won that 1962 confrontation in spite of being
The '62 Lions had to overcome the celebrated SPORTS ILLUSTRATED jinx.
In previewing the game, SI profiled Detroit's Nick Pietrosante on the cover
of its November 19, 1962 edition with the caption "The Complete Fullback"
and an article inside the magazine entitled "A Man And A Hope."
While the Lions managed to beat Green Bay, the SI jinx hit Pietrosante
hard. Slowed by injury, he had just one carry for three yards in the contest.
Pietrosante is most associated with Notre Dame. He led Notre Dame High
School in West Haven. CT to the state championship in football in 1954 and
then moved on to the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, IN and to this
day the Fighting Irish recognize an outstanding player award (annually voted
by the ND players) in his memory.
Pietrosante was an All-American at Notre Dame, was Detroit's first round
draft choice (sixth overall) in 1959 and played for the Lions through 1965. He
was a plodding, straight-up runner considered by Pro Football Hall of Famer
Otto Graham to be "too slow" for pro football. Even so, Pietrosante used his
6-2, 220-lb brute force to bowl over would-be tacklers so effectively that by
the fifth game of his fourth NFL season in 1962 he broke Ace Gutowsky's
Lions career rushing record.
Pietrosante was the NFL Rookie of the Year in 1959. He was named to
the Pro Bowl in both 1961 and '62. The Lions never had a 1,000-yard rusher
until Steve Owens in 1971. Pietrosante came closest with a then team record
872-yards and his career-high of eight touchdowns in 1960 when the NFL
schedule was just 12 games per season. He did exceed 1,000-yards in offense
in 1961 when he ran for 841-yards on a career-high 201 carries and also caught
26 passes for 315-yards for a combined 1,156-yards.
Pietrosante led the Lions in rushing in 1959, 1960, 1961 and 1964.
However, as the Lions and the NFL moved more toward speed and the
passing game in the early 1960s in order to compete with the new more
wide-open style of the upstart AFL, Pietrosante was used more as a blocker
than a runner. Halfback Danny Lewis led Detroit in rushing in 1962 and '63
and Dallas Cowboys castoff Amos Marsh led the Lions in rushing in 1965.
By '65 the handwriting was on the wall when Pietrosante lost his starting
job. He failed to make the roster for the 1966 season and moved on to the
Cleveland Browns to finish his pro career as a back-up in 1966-67. His career
totals showed 4,026-yards rushing and 1,391 in passing yards and 30 touchdowns.
Pietrosante still ranks fifth on the all-time Lions rushing list with 3,933
A quiet Catholic who attended church on Sundays before suiting up
for Lion games, Pietrosante was considered dull by Detroit sportswriters.
That's because before he ever came to Detroit Pietrosante learned to watch
what he said after calling the firing of Notre Dame football coach Terry Brennan
in 1958 "a disgrace" and then getting reprimanded for his remarks by then ND
Vice President Father Edmund Joyce.
Pietrosante was just 50-years old when he died on February 6, 1988.
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