The induction of two classes into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year was already set to create a frenzied atmosphere in Canton, Ohio.
But as it turns out, the celebration of all things football in the Ohio town about 60 miles south of Cleveland will have a bit of a Michigan feel, with four of the 28 inductees featuing ties to That State Up North: wide receiver Calvin Johnson (Detroit Lions) and defensive back Charles Woodson (Michigan) will go in as part of the Class of 2021, offensive lineman Steve Hutchinson (Michigan) will go in with the Class of 2020 and defensive lineman Alex Karras (Lions) will go in as part of 2020’s Centennial Class, honoring the 100th anniversary of the NFL.
FACE OF THE FRANCHISE: Calvin Johnson’s HOF bust almost complete: ‘I’m beating myself up trying to get it right’
THE EPIC GAMES: Relive Calvin Johnson’s Hall of Fame Lions career
The addition of Johnson and Karras brings the Lions’ representation in the Hall to 22 players. Here’s a quick look at the Lions’ inductees from over the years.
CB Lem Barney
The teams: Lions (1967-77).
The induction: 1992.
The honors: Two time All-Pro, seven Pro Bowls, 1967 Defensive Rookie of the Year, HOF All-1960s Team.
The career: Drafted in the second round (No. 34 overall) out of Jackson State, Barney had an immediate impact in Detroit, with an interception returned for a touchdown on the first pass thrown his way in his debut against the Packers. He finished that season with 10 picks (and three TD returns), past of 56 interceptions (with seven TDs), 25 forced fumbles and 17 fumble recoveries over a 140-game Lions career.
DB Jack Christiansen
The teams: Lions (1951-58).
The induction: 1970.
The honors: Six-time All-Pro, five Pro Bowls, HOF All-1950s Team.
The career: Christiansen, working the edge of a ball-hawking secondary that also featured future Hall of Famer Yale Lary, picked off 46 passes in just 89 games, including an NFL-leading 12 in 1953. (That total is still the Lions’ single-season record.) Christiansen also led the NFL with 10 interceptions in 1957, the Lions’ last championship season. On special teams, the sixth-round draft pick averaged 12.8 yards on 85 punt returns, with eight TDs (six of them in 1951-52) and 22.5 yards on 59 kick returns. “The book on him in those days was, ‘Don’t pass in his area and don’t punt to him.’ He was awesome,” said Nick Kerbawy, former Lions GM, in 1986.
TB/DB Dutch Clark
The teams: Spartans (1931-32), Lions (1934-38).
The induction: 1963*.
The honors: Six-time All-Pro, HOF All-1930s Team.
The career: Already a star when the franchise moved from Portsmouth, Ohio, to Detroit (where they played at 16,000-season University of Detroit Stadium), Clark averaged 6.2 yards a carry, led the NFL with eight rushing TDs and picked up 383 yards on 23-for-50 passing over 12 games in 1934. His 194 yards rushing against Cincinnati that season still ranks eighth in franchise history for a single game. The next year, the Lions won the NFL title with Clark accounting for 427 yards rushing (with four touchdowns), 133 yards passing (with two TDs and four interceptions) and 124 yards receiving (with another two TDs). His coach, Potsy Clark, called him “a rabbit in the brush,” while the legendary Red Grange described him as “the hardest man in football to tackle.” Clark was a member of the Hall’s inaugural class.
OL Lou Creekmur
The teams: Lions (1950-59).
The induction: 1966.
The honors: Six-time All-Pro, eight Pro Bowls.
The career: Creekmur opened his Lions career as a guard after being drafted by the Eagles in the 26th round (No. 243) in 1948 out of William & Mary. He shifted to tackle in 1953 and starred there as well, earning an All-NFL nod at both spots that season. (He also subbed in on the defensive line in key spots.) Yale Lary, Creekmur’s teammate on three NFL championship teams, said, “Bobby (Layne) had a nickname for everyone, and Lou’s was ‘The Spirit,’ referring both to Creekmur’s uniform number (76) and his tenacious style of play. … Lou was a real team player and an important part of those teams.”
DT Curley Culp
The teams: Chiefs (1968-74), Oilers (1974-80), Lions (1980-81).
The induction: 2013.
The honors: 1975 All-Pro, six Pro Bowls.
The career: Culp, a wrestling star at Arizona State, was a key part of the Chiefs defense when the franchise won its first Super Bowl following the 1969 season. He became a star with the Oilers after a trade, however, filling the middle on the 1975 squad that led the NFL in fewest rushing yards allowed and also picking up 11.5 sacks. He joined the Lions in December 1980 after being cut by two teams and appeared in five games with the franchise.
TB Bill Dudley
The teams: Steelers (1942, ’45-46), Lions (1947-49), Washington (1950-51, ’53).
The induction: 1966.
The honors: 1942 All-Pro, 1946 MVP, three Pro Bowls, HOF All-1940s Team.
The career: Dudley’s start wasn’t hampered by World War II, as the No. 1 overall pick in the draft led the NFL in yards rushing as a rookie and then again in his return from the Army Air Corps in 1946. (That year, “Bullet Bill” also led the NFL in punt returns, defensive interceptions — with 10 in 11 games — and lateral passes.) The Lions lured him out of retirement (and an assistant coaching job at Virginia) in 1947 and he became a versatile scorer — with seven receiving TDs, two rushing TDs, a punt-return TD and an interception-return TD — and had five picks in nine games.
DL Frank Gatski
The teams: Browns (1946-56), Lions (1957).
The induction: 1985.
The honors: Two-time All-Pro; two Pro Bowls.
The career: Gatski never missed a game, though it took him three years to become a starter with the Browns. He also played in 11 championship games over his 12 seasons: four AAFC wins, followed by three NFL titles in six tries in the Browns’ first six seasons in the NFL, wrapped by up an eighth title in his only year with the Lions (in which he beat the Browns, no less).
WR Calvin Johnson
The teams: Lions (2007-15).
The induction: 2021.
The honors: Three-time All-Pro, six Pro Bowls, HOF All-2010s Team.
The career: After spending his rookie year adjusting to the NFL — and still making 48 catches for 756 yards, Johnson became the dominating threat that made him the No. 2 overall pick out of Georgia Tech. In his second season, he led the NFL in touchdown catches on an 0-16 team with an average losing margin of two TDs. “Megatron” had 1,000-yard seasons in each of his final six seasons. That includes 2012, when he averaged 122.8 yards a game and only needed 15 games to break the NFL record for yards receiving in a single season. His final 2012 total of 1,964 is 93 yards more than any receiver has managed since. Johnson finished his career with 731 catches for 11,619 yards and 83 touchdowns.
RB John Henry Johnson
The teams: 49ers (1954-56), Lions (1957-59), Steelers (1960-65), Oilers (1966).
The induction: 1987.
The honors: Four Pro Bowls.
The career: A second-round draft pick of the Steelers in 1953, Johnson played for a season with Calgary of the CFL — where he was named to the All-Canada team at five positions — before joining the 49ers and rushing for 681 yards and nine touchdowns in 12 games. In Detroit, he became an outstanding blocking fullback: “Ol’ John Henry’s got the meanest elbows in football,” Bobby Layne was quoted as saying. “Guys come at me and he puts an elbow in their throat, and they don’t come so fast anymore.” He had two 1,000-yard seasons with the Steelers, though, and finished with 6,803 yards rushing, fourth all-time when he retired.
DT Alex Karras
The teams: Lions (1958-62, ’64-70).
The induction: 2020
The honors: Three-time All-Pro, four Pro Bowls, HOF All-1960s Team.
The career: Karras was seemingly unstoppable. He played in 161 of a possible 162 games during his career, including a streak of 153 straight starts, and he piled up an estimated 100 sacks (the sack became an official stat in 1982), including five double-digit seasons. The only thing that did stop him? A full-season suspension for gambling in 1963. He returned in 1964 with 13 sacks and two interceptions. Along the way, he became a film and TV star, with key roles as himself in 1968’s “Paper Lion,” Mongo in 1974’s “Blazing Saddles” and George Papadapolis (aka Webster’s dad) in “Webster” from 1983-89.
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DB Dick (Night Train) Lane
The teams: Rams (1952-53), Cardinals (1954-59), Lions (1960-65).
The induction: 1974.
The honors: Three-time All-Pro, seven Pro Bowls, HOF All-1950s Team.
The career: The nickname, acquired in Rams camp in 1952, was for his enjoyment of the Buddy Morrow song, “Night Train.” But he was as fast as a train and hard-hitting, too. Undrafted out of Scottsbluff Junior College (later named Western Nebraska CC) in Nebraska after four years in the Army, Lane dominated as a rookie, with a league-high 14 interceptions and two return TDs plus a safety. “Train had great size and speed. I have never seen anyone with the type of closing speed on a receiver that he had,” said Joe Schmidt, the Lions captain when Lane came to Detroit in 1960. “Train took great pride in getting to the receiver and making the tackle. He was a true team player.” Lane had 21 interceptions in 66 games with the Lions, finishing with 68 picks in 157 games overall.
DB/P Yale Lary
The teams: Lions (1952-64).
The induction: 1979.
The honors: Three-time All-Pro, nine Pro Bowls, HOF All-1950s Team.
The career: Lary was another two-way star of the 1950s: Lockdown cornerback and … punter? The Lions third-round pick (No. 34 overall) in 1952 out of Texas A&M took over the full-time punting duties in his second season in Detroit and led the NFL in yards per punt three times (1959, 1961, 1963). He was also a dependable ball-hawk, pulling down 50 interceptions in 133 games, including eight each year in 1956 and 1962. “He was a great athlete,” said teammate Joe Schmidt. “He had great physical ability. He was built real well, and he had great intelligence about the secondary.”
QB Bobby Layne
Teams: Bears (1948), N.Y. Bulldogs (1949), Lions (1950-58), Steelers (1958-62).
The induction: 1967.
The honors: Two-time All-Pro, six Pro Bowls, HOF All-1950s Team.
The career: The No. 3 pick out of Texas never clicked anywhere outside of the Lone Star State like he did in Detroit, with a 53-29-2 record, 15,710 yards passing, 118 touchdowns, 142 interceptions and four NFL championships. He finished with more than 26,000 yards passing in an era when the passing game was just blooming, but he always brought a celebration — on the field, for those four titles, and off. As his favorite receiver, Cloyce Box, put it after Layne’s death in 1986: “He never wanted the game to end or the party to wind down.”
DB Dick LeBeau
The teams: Lions (1959-72).
The induction: 2010.
The honors: Three Pro Bowls.
The career: LeBeau was drafted in the fifth round by the Browns after three seasons at running back at Ohio State. Cut in training camp, LeBeau moved to safety with the Lions, then settled in at cornerback for a dozen consistent seasons in Detroit. From 1960-71, he missed just three games total and had at least three interceptions every season, peaking with nine in 1970. After a final season back at safety, LeBeau retired with 62 interceptions, still the franchise record.
RB Ollie Matson
The teams: Cardinals (1952-58), Rams (1959-62), Lions (1963), Eagles (1964-66).
The induction: 1972.
The honors: Five-time All-Pro, six Pro Bowls, HOF All-1950s Team.
The career: Matson was fast — he won bronze in the 400 meters and silver in the 1,600-meter relay in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. When he finally got around to the NFL, the No. 3 overall pick out of San Francisco rushed 1,170 times for 5,173 yards and caught 222 passes for 3,285 yards over 171 games. Only eight of those games were with the Lions, though; he rushed 13 times for 20 yards and caught two passes for 20 yards while dealing with an ankle sprain.
RB Hugh McElhenny
The teams: 49ers (1952-60), Vikings (1961-62), Giants (1963), Lions (1964).
The induction: 1970.
The honors: 1952 Rookie of the Year, Two-time All-Pro, six Pro Bowls, HOF All-1950s Team.
The career: A West Coast wonder at the No. 9 overall pick out of Washington, McElhenny’s speed and nimble moves made him a star, as he gained 11,175 yards on runs, catches, punt returns and kick returns over his first dozen seasons. In Year 13, his last in the NFL, he had 200 all-around yards in eight games with the Lions.
RB Barry Sanders
The teams: Lions (1989-98).
The induction: 2004.
The honors: Six-time All-Pro, 10 Pro Bowls, 1989 Offensive Rookie of the Year, Two-time Offensive Player of the Year (1994, 1997), 1997 MVP, HOF All-1990s Team.
Barry Sanders: Looking back at the greatest Detroit Lion ever
We look back at Detroit Lions legendary running back Barry Sanders’ marvelous career. Video by Kirkland Crawford/DFP
The career: He is almost unquestionably the greatest offensive player in franchise history, with the only knocks against him his lack of a title — shared by every Lions of the past six-plus decades — and his abrupt retirement after 10 seasons on the eve of training camp. The No. 3 overall pick out of Oklahoma State averaged 99.8 yards rushing per game in Detroit en route to 15,269 yards; when he retired in July 1999, he was second all-time in yards rushing, 1,457 behind Walter Payton. Only Emmitt Smith and Frank Gore have passed him since, though former Lion Adrian Peterson could do so this season.
TE Charlie Sanders
The teams: Lions (1968-77).
The induction: 2007.
The honors: Three-time All-Pro, seven Pro Bowls, HOF All-1970s Team.
The career: Sanders was part of a group of tight ends who revolutionized the position — he was just the eighth tight end inducted into the Hall — providing a consistent offensive threat for a decade. A third-rounder (No. 74 overall) from Minnesota, Sanders caught at least 28 passes in each of his first nine seasons, with at least 416 yards receiving. “He always thought if he could get the quarterback to throw it to him he was going to catch it,” said teammate Lem Barney. “He made some acrobatic catches. I’m telling you, one-legged, one arm in the air, floating through the air almost like a Superman. If you threw it to him he was going to find a way to catch it.” Sanders finished with 336 catches for 4,817 yards and 31 TDs.
MLB Joe Schmidt
The teams: Lions (1953-65).
The induction: 1973.
The honors: Eight-time All-Pro, 10 Pro Bowls, HOF All-1950s Team.
The career: If not the first middle linebacker, as we know the position now, then arguably the first to play the position as the “defensive quarterback,” divining opposing offenses and calling coverages in a complicated Lions scheme. The seventh-round pick (No. 86 overall) out of Pitt became a leader on the Lions championship squads quickly and also earned a reputation as a devastating hitter. Yet he was also nimble enough to pick off 24 passes (with two TD returns). After he was done as a player, he coached the Lions for six seasons, finishing with a 43-34-7 record from 1967-72 — he remains the only Lions coach since their 1957 title with four consecutive winning seasons.
OL Dick Stanfel
The teams: Lions (1952-55), Washington (1956-58).
The induction: 2016.
The honors: Five-time All-Pro, five Pro Bowls, HOF All-1950s Team.
The career: Stanfel was drafted in the second round in 1951, but injured his knee prepping for the College All-Star Game and missed the ensuing season. A dominant part of the offensive line during the Lions’ 1953 title run, but injuries limited him in his final two seasons in Detroit. A trade to Washington reunited him with his college coach at San Francisco — and likely sped up the end of his career: Stanfel retired at 31 to follow his coach from D.C. to Notre Dame; he continued to coach until 1998.
RB/K Doak Walker
The teams: Lions (1950-55).
The induction: 1986.
The honors: 1950 Rookie of the Year, four-time All-Pro, five Pro Bowls.
The career: Too short? SMU’s 5-foot-11 1948 Heisman winner showed the NFL, averaging 4.9 yards a carry (on 309 rushes) and 16.7 yards a catch (with 152 catches). He also led the NFL in scoring twice, though that was thanks to his role as the team’s place kicker; Walker kicked the winning extra point in the Lions’ 17-16 title game victory over the Browns in 1955.
C/LB Alex Wojciechowicz
The teams: Lions (1938-46), Eagles (1946-50).
The induction: 1968.
The honors: HOF All-1940s Team.
The career: Wojciechowicz was a renowned offensive lineman when he was drafted No. 6 overall out of Fordham, and he shone there even as Detroit teams lost their championship luster. But he also starred as a linebacker, picking off 14 passes in 86 games with the Lions. It was a different time for football, as Bob James, the Lions’ trainer in the 1940s remembered in 1992: “Everybody liked him,” James said. “He had a pair of hip pads he wore all the way through high school, all the way through college, and he was wearing them with the Lions. He would come in about two hours early every day and start taping them together.”