The Pro Football Hall of Fame was created to honor and recognize the great talents that have represented the league since its creation. While important to the memory of the NFL, those players are even more important to the fans and memories of each franchise.
CBS Sports is venturing down the difficult path of dwindling the best players from each NFL team down to a 'Franchise Five': one head coach, one quarterback and three players of any position. For some local perspective, Detroit Free Press beat writer Dave Birkett was consulted on the candidates for the NFC North's Detroit Lions.
Coach Buddy Parker
Lions tenure: 1951-1956
- NFL champion as a player (1935)
- 2x NFL champion as a coach (1952, 1953)
- Record with the Lions: 47-23-2
The decision essentially boiled down to George 'Potsy' Clark and Parker. To be quite frank, Detroit has not had many successful, sustained coaching careers over the course of their franchise's history. Parker played football for nine seasons between the Lions and Chicago Cardinals.
In his second season as Detroit's head coach, the team finished first in the National Conference and won the first of two consecutive NFL championships over the Cleveland Browns. The Lions won the National Conference three consecutive years and met the Browns in the championship each season. His time with the Lions would last just six seasons, however.
He also served as head coach of the Chicago Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers. The superstitious coach never allowed any of his players to wear jersey number 13.
Lions tenure: 2009-present
- No. 1 overall selection in the 2009 NFL Draft
- 1x Pro Bowl selection
It is pretty remarkable that Stafford has only been selected to the Pro Bowl once in his career considering he was the quickest NFL quarterback to reach 15,000, 20,000, 25,000, 30,000 and 40,000 career passing yards. He holds countless other NFL records and even more franchise records. There has been some buzz this offseason that his time with the team may be coming to an end, but there isn't much in the way of facts to support this buzz. Stafford missed the final eight games of the 2019 regular season and it was clear the team missed his leadership. Detroit finished 0-8 in games without the Georgia product. They were 3-4-1 in games he started.
Despite playing in just three playoff games, Stafford has been a consistent leader for the NFC North franchise. He has led Detroit on 28 comebacks and 34 game-winning drives, according to Pro Football Reference. He has amassed 41,025 passing yards, 256 passing touchdowns and 134 interceptions throughout his career.
The Stafford family has endeared themselves to the Michigan community.
RB Barry Sanders
Lions tenure: 1989-1998
- No. 3 overall selection in the 1989 NFL Draft
- 10x Pro Bowl selection
- 6x First Team All-Pro
- 4x Second Team All-Pro
- NFL MVP (1997)
- 2x NFL Offensive Player of the Year (1994, 1997)
- NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year
Any conversation regarding the NFL's best running backs must include Sanders. He has been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as well as the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Heisman Trophy winner was named to the NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team as well as the NFL 1990's All-Decade Team. Sanders piled up honors and awards similar to his rushing yardage production.
"Barry's one of the two best running backs in NFL history, in my opinion, so he's a no-brainer when it comes to this list. When you think of the Lions, he's the first player that comes to mind," Birkett said.
Sanders retired earlier than many expected, which only makes his career numbers that much more impressive. He compiled 15,269 rushing yards and 99 rushing touchdowns as well as 352 receptions, 2,921 receiving yards and 10 receiving touchdowns. Frank Gore passed the 51-year-old on the career rushing list last season but each of the three running backs ahead (Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton and Gore) played in at least three more seasons than Sanders.
Although not included in defense of his 'Franchise Five' consideration, Sanders put up video game-like numbers while at Oklahoma State. In his final season, he averaged 237.5 rushing yards per game and registered 42 rushing touchdowns. The Kansas native was dominant at every stop in his career.
Lions tenure: 2007-2015
- No. 2 overall selection in the 2007 NFL Draft
- 6x Pro Bowler
- 3x first-team All-Pro
- 2x second-team All-Pro
Johnson retired at the age of 30 years old. He was coming off a season where he recorded 88 receptions for 1,214 yards and nine touchdowns. There was plenty left in the tank but he opted to protect his health. He must have been eager to join the cast of the 23rd season of 'Dancing with the Stars.' Over the course of his illustrious career, Johnson recorded 731 receptions for 11,619 yards and 83 touchdowns. The wide receiver eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards in seven of his nine seasons. The Georgia Tech product fell sixteen yards short in 2009.
Johnson holds the NFL record for most receiving yards in a single season (1,964). The 34-year-old was named to the NFL 2010's All-Decade Team. During that memorable 2012 season, he set a league record for consecutive 100-yard receiving games (8) and consecutive games with ten or more receptions (10). Johnson also tied Michael Irvin's record for most 100-yard games in a single season (11). Few players possessed the combination of Johnson's speed and size. 'Megatron', as he was fondly named, will go down in NFL history as one of the more dominant receivers to ever grace the gridiron. Already a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, the Georgia native's window to join the Pro Football Hall of Fame opens soon. He should be a first-ballot inductee when the opportunity arrives.
LB Joe Schmidt
Lions tenure: 1953-1965
- 8x First Team All-Pro
- 2x Second Team All-Pro
- 10x Pro Bowler
- 2x NFL Defensive MVP (1960,1963)
- 2x NFL champion (1953, 1957)
Schmidt played 13 seasons with the Lions before venturing into the coaching realm. The decorated athlete spent six seasons as the team's coach from 1967-1972. The NFL named him to the 100th Anniversary All-Time Team as well as the NFL 1950's All-Decade Team. His jersey numbers were retired at the University of Pittsburgh as well as with the Lions. The Pennsylvania native has been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as well as the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"Joe Schmidt was Barry to a different generation of Lions fans. He was part of the Lions' last two championship teams, is one of the best linebackers in NFL history and went on to coach the team after his playing days," defended Birkett.
Schmidt led the team to a 43-34-7 record during his time as the head coach. His teams made one playoff appearance but lost.