Last Sunday, the Detroit Lions were moments away from their first victory of the 2021 NFL season, the first of new head coach Dan Campbell’s career. They led the Ravens 17-16 with only three seconds left on the clock. Then, Justin Tucker, the most accurate kicker in the history of the NFL trotted out onto the field. Sure, Tucker had drained numerous game-winning field goals prior, but this one was a 66-yarder — two yards further than the longest field goal in NFL history. There was no way Tucker had the leg to pull this one out.
Tucker shattered the dreams of the Ford Field faithful in attendance, and to add insult to injury, Tucker broke the record for longest field goal in NFL history previously held by former Detroit Lion Matt Prater. However, Prater wasn’t even a Lion when he kicked that 64-yarder. He was a member of the Denver Broncos.
Worse, there was an apparent delay of game not called on the kick. Campbell, best known for saying his team will bite kneecaps off after he was hired, said, “There’s nothing I can say to that. Tomorrow, [we’ll] get an apology and it won’t mean anything. That’s life.”
And this wasn’t even Justin Tucker’s first 60-yard game-winning field goal in the stadium. On December 16, 2013, Tucker drained a then-career-long 61-yard field goal to give his Ravens an 18-16 win over the Lions in Detroit.
Tucker has been a menace when facing the Lions. In his three career games against Detroit, Tucker has gone 13-of-14 with two game-winning field goals from 60-plus yards out. That’s incredible. In fact, over the course of those three games, Tucker has accounted for 45 of Baltimore’s 81 points. That’s more than half of Baltimore’s points coming off the foot of Tucker.
Sunday wasn’t just a bad day for Lions’ fans though because of the game. No, Lions fans also got to watch their former kicker Prater, now a member of the Arizona Cardinals, attempt a 68-yard field goal at the end of the first half against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Prater also drilled a 62-yard field goal against the Minnesota Vikings a week earlier. It must be nice to have that kind of confidence in your kicker. Prater’s kick came up short, and was returned 109 yards for a touchdown by another former Lion, Jamal Agnew. You just can’t get away from ties to the Lions!
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That’s not where the Lions history with 60-plus yard field goals ends though. Prior to Prater’s 64-yard kick, there had been four players to kick 63-yard field goals (there have since been two more 63-yard field goals: Gano, 2018; Maher, 2019). Of those four kicks, two involve the Lions.
In 2012, 49ers kicker David Akers hit a 63-yarder against the Green Bay Packers. Akers was a Detroit Lion for the final year of his career. After just one season in the Motor City, Akers was released by the team. The move was not a huge surprise as Akers attempted just 24 field goals for the Lions in 2014 and sent just 19 of them through the uprights. He was also heading into his age-40 season and the Lions had their eyes set on Matt Prater becoming their kicker of the future.
The other 63-yard field goal with ties to the Lions is the very first one ever made. Tom Dempsey’s famous kick for the Saints in 1970 came against none other than the Detroit Lions. Nowadays, Dempsey is most well-known as the guy with a rule designed specifically for him. You see, Dempsey didn’t have a normal kicking foot. He was born without toes on his right foot, and thus, he did not wear normal shoes when kicking for the Saints. He tried to use normal kicking shoes in his early days as a kicker for the Chargers in the AFL, but those shoes were so bad for him, Dempsey often opted to kick barefoot instead. It wasn’t until he got to the NFL, when he had custom kicking shoes created specifically for him. However, that custom shoe was eerily sledgehammer-like, and after Dempsey kicked his famous 63-yard game-winning field goal against the Lions, the NFL created a new rule to prevent similar equipment-related situations from happening.
Rule 5, Section 4, Article 3, Item 7:
Kicking shoes must not be modified, and any shoe that is worn by a player with an artificial limb on his kicking leg must have a kicking surface that conforms to that of a normal kicking shoe.
That is an actual rule in the NFL rulebook, and if it weren’t for the Lions being upset about being beaten by a man with half his kicking foot, it may not exist nowadays.
I also want to point out that the Lions themselves have never kicked a 60-yard field goal. Their longest field goal in franchise history is just a 57-yarder by Prater in 2017. For all the devastatingly long, game-winning field goals the Lions have endured throughout their history, you’d think they’d go for it from deep more often, but nope. They’re cursed to fall victim to the 60-plus yard field goal for eternity. Every one they attempt will fall short, and every one attempted against them will sail through the goalposts. I’m not sure what kind of black magic ritual was performed on the franchise, but until the Lions sink a 60-yarder of their own, I don’t think the magic will wear off any time soon.