There really is no debate when it comes to who was the best player in the history of the Lions. Sanders was picked third overall in the 1989 draft and spent his entire 10-year career wearing Honolulu Blue in Detroit. His career stats rival Emmitt Smith and Bears legend Walter Payton in many cases. He holds the NFL record for most games with 150 or more rushing yards and 150 yards or more from scrimmage. When he retired, Sanders’ 15,269 career rushing yards was second only to Payton — and only Smith has eclipsed him since. The Lions running back abruptly quit in 1999, later explaining he didn’t like the organization’s losing culture, which he said robbed him of his competitive spirit. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004 as only the second former player under the age of 40 to have that honor.
LB Chris Spielman
While Barry Sanders was running the ball for the offense, the Lions’ defense was anchored by Spielman. The second-round draft pick spent eight seasons with the Lions from 1988 to 1995, becoming the team’s all-time leader in career tackles. He also was the first Lion to lead the team in tackles for seven consecutive seasons and was named to four Pro Bowls during his tenure in Detroit. Since his retirement in 1999, Spielman went into broadcasting, becoming a color analyst for college football games. He’s also an advocate for the Stefanie Spielman Fund for Breast Cancer Research at Ohio State University in memory of his wife who died after a long bout with breast cancer in 2009.
DT Alex Karras
Karras came to Detroit in 1958 as a first-round draft pick from the University of Iowa. He was a defensive tackle for the team for 12 seasons from 1958 to 1962 and 1964 to 1970, missing the 1963 season after admitting he bet on NFL games. During his tenure, the Lions’ defense allowed the second fewest points in the NFL for three seasons — 1962, 1969 and 1970 — largely due to the strength of Karras and his defensive line. Karras became an actor after his release by the Lions in 1971 and was in the movies “Porky’s,” “Victor Victoria,” and “Against All Odds.” In the 1980s, he also starred in the TV sitcom “Webster.”
DB Lem Barney
Barney was drafted by the Lions in 1967 and went on to win the NFL’s defensive rookie of the year award that season. He was also selected to the Pro Bowl that season — the first of seven Pro Bowl appearances by the cornerback during his career. Barney eventually spent 11 seasons with the Lions, nabbing 56 interceptions and gaining more than 1,000 yards in returned kickoffs and punts. For his efforts, Barney was inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1992. He’s now an associate minister at a Methodist church in suburban Detroit.
QB Bobby Layne
Layne played with the Lions from 1950-58 and led the team to NFL championships in 1952 and 1953 and an appearance in the final game in 1954, eventually losing to the Cleveland Browns that year. When he retired after 15 NFL seasons with the Lions, Bears, and Steelers, he held the records for passes attempted, passes completed, yards gained passing, and passing touchdowns. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1967 and also had his number 22 retired by the Lions.