On Tuesday evening, the sad news of the passing of NFL legend John Madden started circulating on news outlets around the country. He was 85 years old and died unexpectedly sometime Tuesday morning.

Madden was head coach for the Oakland Raiders beginning in 1968, leading the team to a Super Bowl victory in 1977. He later spent time as a television announcer for NFL games and eventually became the face of a football video game that still bears his name.

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During the 'Barry Sanders' era for the Detroit Lions, from 1989-1998, John Madden and his partner, the late Pat Sumerall, called several games together for the team's nationally televised games, including the playoffs and on Thanksgiving. For the games on Turkey Day involving the Lions and Cowboys, Madden developed a unique way to honor the most valuable player for those contests... awarding the player or players a giant turkey leg.

In 1997, the Detroit Lions met the Chicago Bears for their annual Thanksgiving showdown and handed the Bears a 55-20 defeat. It was the most points the Lions have ever scored in a Thanksgiving Day game and Barry Sanders put on a show and was awarded the turkey leg that day. Madden also happened to introduce his famous turducken that day, coincidentally.

But January 5, 1992, is a day in Detroit Lions history that lives forever in the memory of fans for good and bad reasons. John Madden was in the TV booth, among an electric crowd at the Silverdome, that witnessed something that is unfortunately rare for the Lions franchise. It was the first time they won a playoff game since 1957 and is also the last time to this day they have accomplished that same feat.

The Detroit Lions went 12-4 in the 1991 season, winning their division and earning a first-round bye in the playoffs. It set up a home match-up with the Dallas Cowboys with a chance to advance to the NFC Championship game. The Lions left no doubts and blew out the Cowboys 38-6. And late in the game, Barry Sanders had an insane touchdown run that became one of his most infamous, putting an exclamation point on the victory.

Unfortunately, the Lions ran into a red-hot Washington Redskins team for that NFC Championship game the following week and were blown out in a 41-10 loss. It was the closest the Lions have ever come to appearing in a Super Bowl, just one game away. Detroit has appeared in several Wild Card playoff games since then, most recently in the 2016 season, but has lost each one.

But on that beautiful day in January those many years ago, Detroit Lions fans truly had a reason to be proud of their team and feel, at the time, that the brightest days were ahead for the team.

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