During the 1950s, the Detroit Lions were one of the most glamorous and successful teams in the National Football League, winning championships in 1952, 1953, and 1957, and regularly playing before packed houses at Briggs Stadium. In When Lions Were Kings: The Detroit Lions and the Fabulous Fifties, journalist and sports historian Richard Bak blends a deeply researched and richly written narrative with many rare color images from the decade, re-creating a time when the Motor City and its gridiron heroes were riding high in the saddle.
Representing a city at its postwar peak of population and influence, coach Raymond "Buddy" Parker and such players as Les Bingaman, Bob "Hunchy" Hoernschemeyer, Yale Lary, Joe Schmidt, Jack Christiansen, Jim Doran, Lou Creekmur, and Leon Hart helped sell the game to a country discovering the joys of watching televised football on Sunday afternoons and Thanksgiving Day. Quarterback Bobby Layne and halfback Doak Walker were celebrity athletes during this golden age of pro football—a decade when the game first started to replace its slower-paced cousin, baseball, as the national pastime. While the quietly modest Walker was a darling of Madison Avenue advertisers, the swaggering Layne became the first NFL player ever to grace the cover of Time magazine. Along with detailed profiles of the players, coaches, and games that defined the Lions’ only dynastic era, Bak explores such varied topics as the team’s languid approach to desegregation, the wild popularity of bubble gum trading cards, and the staggering physical cost players of the period have suffered in retirement.
When Lions Were Kings is a lively portrait of the golden age of professional football in Detroit that will delight younger fans and inform die-hard followers of one of the NFL’s oldest franchises.