1997 Detroit Lions season

Last updated
1997 Detroit Lions season
Head coach Bobby Ross
General managerChuck Schmidt
Owner William Clay Ford, Sr.
Home field Pontiac Silverdome
Division place3rd NFC Central
Playoff finishLost Wild Card Playoffs (Buccaneers) 10–20
Pro Bowlers

The 1997 Detroit Lions season was their 68th in the National Football League (NFL).

The 1997 NFL season was the 78th regular season of the National Football League. The Oilers relocated from Houston, Texas to Nashville, Tennessee. The newly renamed Tennessee Oilers played their home games during this season at the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tennessee while construction of a new stadium in Nashville started. Houston would rejoin the NFL with the expansion Texans in 2002.

Detroit Lions National Football League franchise in Detroit, Michigan

The Detroit Lions are a professional American football team based in Detroit, Michigan. The Lions compete in the National Football League (NFL) as a member club of the league's National Football Conference (NFC) North division. The team plays its home games at Ford Field in Downtown Detroit.

National Football League Professional American football league

The National Football League (NFL) is a professional American football league consisting of 32 teams, divided equally between the National Football Conference (NFC) and the American Football Conference (AFC). The NFL is one of the four major professional sports leagues in North America and the highest professional level of American football in the world. The NFL's 17-week regular season runs from early September to late December, with each team playing 16 games and having one bye week. Following the conclusion of the regular season, six teams from each conference advance to the playoffs, a single-elimination tournament culminating in the Super Bowl, which is usually held on the first Sunday in February and is played between the champions of the NFC and AFC.


The Lions rebounded from a disastrous 1996 season, finishing 9–7 and qualifying for the playoffs for the fifth time in seven seasons – the best stretch in franchise history.

1996 Detroit Lions season NFL American football season

The 1996 Detroit Lions season was their 67th in the National Football League (NFL). The team declined severely from their previous season's output of 10–6. Following a 4-2 start, the Lions would proceed to lose nine of their final ten games to finish 5-11, missing the playoffs for the first time in four seasons.

Bobby Ross replaced Wayne Fontes as head coach. The highlight of the season was Barry Sanders becoming the third player in NFL history to rush for at least 2,000 yards in a season. Sanders shared the 1997 Associated Press MVP Award with Packers quarterback Brett Favre.

Wayne Fontes is a former American football coach and college and professional football player who was the head coach of the National Football League's Detroit Lions from 1988 to 1996. His 67 wins and 71 losses are each the most for a head coach in team history.

Barry Sanders American football running back, Pro Football Hall of Famer

Barry Sanders is a former American football running back. He played professionally for the Detroit Lions of the National Football League (NFL). A Pro Bowl invitee in each of his ten NFL seasons and two-time NFL Offensive Player of the Year, Sanders led the league in rushing yards four times and established himself as one of the most elusive runners in pro football with his quickness and agility. In 2007, he was ranked by NFL Network's NFL Top 10 series as the most elusive runner in NFL history, and also topped its list of greatest players never to play in a Super Bowl. He is often regarded as one of the greatest running backs in NFL history.

The 1997 Green Bay Packers season was their 79th season overall and their 77th in the National Football League. The season concluded with the team winning its second consecutive NFC championship, but losing in a 31–24 upset to John Elway's Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXXII. The team narrowly missed its opportunity to post back-to-back Super Bowl wins.

As a team, the Lions set an NFL rushing record, gaining 5.51 yards per rushing attempt. [1] The Lions scored 379 points in 1997, the fourth-most of any team in the league. [2]


NFL Draft

1997 Detroit Lions draft
15 Bryant Westbrook   Cornerback Texas
235 Juan Roque   Tackle Arizona State
254 Kevin Abrams   Cornerback Syracuse
4130 Matt Russell   Linebacker Colorado
5135 Pete Chryplewicz   Tight end Notre Dame
5161Duane Ashman  Defensive end Virginia
6168 Tony Ramirez   Guard Northern Colorado
7206Terry Battle  Running back Arizona State
7232 Marcus Harris   Wide receiver Wyoming
7239 Richard Jordan   Linebacker Missouri Southern
      Made roster    *   Made at least one Pro Bowl during career



1997 Detroit Lions staff
Front office

Ron Hughes was the college scouting coordinator of the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers.

Larry Dwayne Lee is a former American football center who played eight seasons in the National Football League (NFL).

Kevin Colbert is the general manager of the National Football League's Pittsburgh Steelers since the start of 2000. He is widely credited with putting together the Super Bowl XL and the Super Bowl XLIII teams in Pittsburgh along with owner Dan Rooney, president Art Rooney II, and coaches Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin.

Head coaches

Offensive coaches

  • Offensive Coordinator – Sylvester Croom
  • Quarterbacks – Marc Trestman
  • Running Backs – Frank Falks
  • Wide Receivers – Jerry Sullivan
  • Tight Ends – Bob Palcic
  • Offensive Line – Jack Henry
  • Quality Control–Offense/Administrative Assistant – John Misciagna
Sylvester Croom American football coach

Sylvester Croom Jr. is a retired American football coach. He was previously the running backs coach for the NFL's Tennessee Titans. He was the head coach at Mississippi State University from 2004 to 2008, and the first African American head football coach in the Southeastern Conference. His father, Sylvester Croom, Sr., was himself an All-American football player at Alabama A&M, later the team chaplain at the University of Alabama, and has been recognized by that school as one of the state's 40 pioneers of civil rights. After his time at Mississippi State, Croom, Jr. served as running backs coach for three teams in the National Football League.

Marc Trestman Gridiron football coach

Marc Marlyn Trestman is an American and Canadian football coach who is the head coach and general manager of the Tampa Bay Vipers of the XFL. He was also recently head coach of the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League (CFL), and served as the head coach of the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL and Chicago Bears of the National Football League (NFL). He led the Alouettes to two consecutive Grey Cup championships and was named CFL Coach of the Year in 2009. He played college football as a quarterback for three seasons with the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, and one season at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

Jerry Sullivan American football coach

Jerry Sullivan is a professional and college football coach. He spent 25-years in the National Football League, 24 of them as a wide receivers coach. He also spent over 20-years as a college football coach.

Defensive coaches
  • Defensive Coordinator – Larry Peccatiello
  • Defensive Line – Brian Baker
  • Linebackers – Gary Moeller
  • Secondary – Richard Selcer
  • Defensive Assistant/Assistant Strength – Don Clemons
  • Quality Control–Defense – Dennis Murphy

Special teams coaches

  • Special Teams – Chuck Priefer
  • Offensive/Special Teams Assistant – Stan Kwan

Strength and conditioning

  • Strength and Conditioning – Bert Hill


1997 Detroit Lions final roster

Running backs

Wide receivers

Tight ends

Offensive linemen

Defensive linemen


Defensive backs

Special teams

Reserve lists

Practice squad

Rookies in italics
Active, Inactive, Practice squad

Regular season

The final game of the regular season, on December 21, was marked by emotional highs and lows. Entering the game at 8–7 and needing a win to secure a playoff berth, the Lions played host to the 9–6 New York Jets, who like the Lions would be eliminated from the playoffs with a loss (although the Jets still had a chance to win the AFC East and get a home playoff game). In addition, Barry Sanders entered the game with a chance to potentially break the NFL’s single season rushing record— Sanders entered the game with 1,869 rushing yards, leaving him 131 from 2,000 and 237 away from what would have been a record setting 2,106 yards, topping Eric Dickerson’s 2,105 set in 1984. The Lions won the game 13–10, clinching the playoff spot and eliminating the Jets from the playoffs. A fourth-quarter touchdown run by Sanders proved decisive, and he finished with 184 yards to top out at 2,053 for the year – with Sanders rushing for an even 2,000 yards over the final 14 games. At the time, Sanders became only the third man to rush for 2,000 yards in a season behind O. J. Simpson and Dickerson and had rushed for the second most yards in a season (since Sanders, Terrell Davis, Jamal Lewis, Chris Johnson, and Adrian Peterson have accomplished the feat; Sanders’ total is now the fourth highest total behind Dickerson's 2,105, Peterson’s 2,096 in 2012, and Lewis’ 2,066 in 2003).

The mood, however, was somewhat tempered due to a career-ending injury suffered by Lions linebacker Reggie Brown. Brown was assisting on a tackle made on Jets running back Adrian Murrell when his head was struck by another player's leg. Brown suffered a spinal cord injury on the play and lost consciousness. At one point Brown actually stopped breathing and nearly died on the field, but was resuscitated. Brown did not move for seventeen minutes, and was eventually carried by ambulance out of the Silverdome. Brown was diagnosed with a spinal cord contusion and never played in the NFL again, although surgery did enable him to continue to be mobile. Brown's injury evoked memories of former Lion Mike Utley's paralyzing injury in 1991 and former Jet Dennis Byrd’s broken neck in 1992. Brown was also not the only Lion to suffer a career ending neck injury in 1997, as defensive back Harry Colon suffered damage to his neck during an earlier game against the New York Giants. [3]


WeekDateOpponentResultTV Time(ET)TV AnnouncersAttendance
1August 31, 1997 Atlanta Falcons W 28–17FOX 1:00pm Sam Rosen & Ron Pitts
2September 7, 1997 Tampa Bay Buccaneers L 24–17FOX 1:00pm Eric Clemons & Trevor Matich
3September 14, 1997at Chicago Bears W 32–7FOX 1:00pm Kevin Harlan & Jerry Glanville
4September 21, 1997at New Orleans Saints L 35–17FOX 1:00pm Kenny Albert & Tim Green
5September 28, 1997 Green Bay Packers W 26–15FOX 1:00pm Dick Stockton & Matt Millen
6October 5, 1997at Buffalo Bills L 22–13FOX 1:00pm Paul Kennedy & Jerry Glanville
7October 12, 1997at Tampa Bay Buccaneers W 27–9FOX 1:00pmDick Stockton & Matt Millen
8October 19, 1997 New York Giants L 26–20 OTFOX 4:00pm Pat Summerall & John Madden
10November 2, 1997at Green Bay Packers L 20–10ESPN 8:00pm Mike Patrick & Joe Theismann
11November 9, 1997at Washington Redskins L 30–7FOX 1:00pm Thom Brennaman & Ron Pitts
12November 16, 1997 Minnesota Vikings W 38–15FOX 1:00pmDick Stockton & Matt Millen
13November 23, 1997 Indianapolis Colts W 32–10NBC 1:00pm Dan Hicks & Jim Kelly
14November 27, 1997 Chicago Bears W 55–20FOX 12:30 pmPat Summerall & John Madden
15December 7, 1997at Miami Dolphins L 33–30ESPN 8:00pmMike Patrick & Joe Theismann
16December 14, 1997at Minnesota Vikings W 14–13FOX 1:00pmKevin Harlan & Jerry Glanville
17December 21, 1997 New York Jets W 13–10NBC 4:00pm Dick Enberg, Paul Maguire & Phil Simms

Game summaries

Week 17

  • Date: December 21
  • Location: Pontiac Silverdome • Detroit, Michigan
  • Game start: 4:00 p.m.
  • Game weather: indoors (dome)



NFC Central
(2) Green Bay Packers 1330.813422282W5
(4) Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1060.625299263W1
(5) Detroit Lions 970.563379306W2
(6) Minnesota Vikings 970.563354359W1
Chicago Bears 4120.250263421L1


NFC Wild Card Game: At Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC Wild Card Game: Detroit Lions at Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Game summary

at Houlihan's Stadium, Tampa, Florida

Tampa Bay won their first playoff game since 1979 with quarterback Trent Dilfer's 9-yard touchdown pass to receiver Horace Copeland, running back Mike Alstott's 31-yard touchdown run, and two field goals. Their defense limited Lions quarterback Scott Mitchell to just 10 of 25 completions for 78 yards.

Awards and honors

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