Matthew Stafford will join these other ex-Lions QB in breaking Detroit's heart

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Revenge.

It’s a dish best served cold, or so we’ve been told, even in sunny Los Angeles. That’s where Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford will get a chance to ladle out some revenge of his own on Sunday against the Detroit Lions, who employed him for the better part — or at least as “better” as the Lions can get — of 12 seasons.

Is it really a “revenge game” when Stafford is clearly playing for the better team these days, with a shot at a deep run into the playoffs? Probably not, unless Stafford gets to tackle all the naysayers who blamed him for the Lions’ latest lack of consistent success. (Or is that a consistent lack of success?)

Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford rolls out during the second half in an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)
Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford rolls out during the second half in an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

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Nevertheless, Sunday will be Stafford’s first chance to prove himself against the franchise that knows him best (despite a new general manager, head coach, offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator… well, you get the idea). He’s hardly the first ex-Lions quarterback to take on his former team soon after departing, however.

Here’s a look at how some other longtime Lions fared under center in their first start against the franchise after departing:

Nov. 8, 1959: Bobby Layne, Steelers

His time with the Lions: Layne was a key part of the Lions squads that went 3-1 in NFL title games in the 1950s. He completed 49% of his passes (while going 53-29-2 as a starter) for 15,710 yards, 118 touchdowns and 142 interceptions. The numbers don’t compare to the modern era, but Layne made four Pro Bowls and two All-Pro squads as a Lion. He was traded to Pittsburgh two games into the 1958 season, reportedly cursing the franchise to 50 years of failure. (The Lions are arguably approaching 65 years.)

The reunion: A year after the trade, Layne had his chance at revenge. The 32-year-old Texas was 12-for-27 passing for 181 yards and a touchdown, but also had three interceptions, to finish with a 39.8 passer rating. The Lions and Steelers tied, 10-10, in Pittsburgh, though Layne accounted for all of the Steelers’ points; he kicked a 29-yard field goal in the third quarter, then tied it up with a 20-yard TD pass and a PAT kick in the fourth.

They said it: “Layne, booed loudly by his followers, came through with the big pitch in the (final) three minutes and 25 seconds to give the Steelers a half-victory they hardly deserved,“ the Freep’s George Puscas wrote that day. “This was typical Layne — to ‘steal’ a victory from the Lions. But the Lions helped him. Layne should never have had the Steelers within striking distance.”

Oct. 23, 1994: Erik Kramer, Bears

His time with the Lions: Over three seasons, Kramer appeared in 25 games (with 15 starts) and completed 55.2% of his attempts for 3,408 yards, 23 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. He signed as a free agent in Chicago before the 1994 season.

The reunion: Kramer opened by going 2-for-8 for 18 yards and an interception in the first quarter at the Pontiac Silverdome, then went 27-for-40 for 291 yards, two touchdowns and two more interceptions in the final three quarters. But when it mattered most, Kramer came up just short; down by five and on the Lions’ 19 with 78 seconds remaining, Kramer completed a pass to Curtis Conway for no gain on second-and-4, then overthrew his man on third down and had a fourth-down throw broken up by cornerback Robert Massey in a play that bordered on pass interference. The Bears lost, 21-16, as Kramer finished 29-for-48 for 309 yards and a passer rating of 67.1.

They said it: "I wasn't tight at all," Kramer said. "For whatever reason, we didn't get off to as quick a start as I would've liked. We had some golden opportunities. You can't do that in this league. I was excited about coming back here to play. It would've been a good way to go out with a win. My main goal coming in was doing what I had to do for us to win."

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Dec. 30, 1995: Rodney Peete, Eagles

His time with the Lions: Drafted by the Lions in the sixth round in 1989, Peete started 47 games (going 21-26) with Detroit from 1989-93, completing 57% of his passes for 8,164 yards, 38 touchdowns and 49 interceptions. He signed as a free agent with the Dallas Cowboys for the 1994 season.

Lions safety Bennie Blades shakes hands with Eagles quarterback and former Lions teammate Rodney Peete after the Lions' 24-17 loss on Sept. 15, 1996, in Philadelphia.
Lions safety Bennie Blades shakes hands with Eagles quarterback and former Lions teammate Rodney Peete after the Lions' 24-17 loss on Sept. 15, 1996, in Philadelphia.

The reunion: Peete had to wait until he landed with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1995 for his revenge, but he got it on the big stage: The playoffs, where the Eagles demolished the Lions, 58-37 (though it was 51-7 partway through the third quarter). Peete was practically perfect, going 17-for-25 for 270 yards and three touchdowns. He was sacked once and lost a fumble, but finished with a 143.3 passer rating.

They said it: After the playoff win, Peete called it, "the best feeling I ever had after a game." Nine months later, when the Eagles took down the Lions in the regular season, 24-17 — and Peete completed 25 of his 30 attempts for 284 yards and a touchdown, plus a rushing TD — the QB was able to make a joke: “Maybe we ought to get Detroit on the schedule all the time."

Nov. 23, 2006: Joey Harrington, Dolphins

His time with the Lions: The No. 3 pick in the 2002 draft, Harrington went from savior of the franchise to scapegoat in four seasons (and two coaches). He appeared in 58 games (with an 18-37 record in 55 starts) while completing 54.7% of his passes for 10,242 yards, 60 touchdowns and 62 interceptions. He was traded to the Miami Dolphins (for a third-round pick) in 2006.

The reunion: Harrington posted the best game of his short — 11 games — Dolphins tenure in a Thanksgiving visit to Ford Field; he was 19-for-29 for 213 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, with a 107.4 passer rating, as Miami minced the Lions, 27-10, on national TV.

They said it: The pain for Lions fans was doubled when Harrington was interviewed by CBS’ Jim Nantz after the game and was asked if it was the most satisfying moment of his career. “Well, yeah, it is. I stood on the sidelines at the end of the third quarter there, and I looked across, and I saw guys were hanging their heads, and I saw people start walking out of the stadium. At that moment, I thought to myself, ‘I'm glad I don't have to go through this anymore.' "

Detroit Free Press sports front page from 2006. The Detroit Lions lost to Joey Harrington and the Miami Dolphins, 27-10.
Detroit Free Press sports front page from 2006. The Detroit Lions lost to Joey Harrington and the Miami Dolphins, 27-10.

Nov. 21, 2010: Jon Kitna, Cowboys

His time with the Lions: Kitna was a nine-year NFL vet when he was signed in 2006 to replace Harrington. In 36 games (with a 10-26 record), Kitna made the most (and sometimes the least) of a Mike Martz offense, completing 62.3% of his passes for 9,034 yards, 44 touchdowns and 47 interceptions. Injured four games into 2008, he was dealt to the Cowboys for cornerback Anthony Henry in February 2009, after the Lions had finished off an 0-16 season.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Jon Kitna (3) races for yardage during the fourth quarter against the Detroit Lions at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, November 21, 2010. The Cowboys won, 35-19.
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Jon Kitna (3) races for yardage during the fourth quarter against the Detroit Lions at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, November 21, 2010. The Cowboys won, 35-19.

The reunion: Even with a demotion from starter in Detroit to backup in Dallas, calling this a “revenge game” is like saying lifeboats wanted revenge on the Titanic. Pressed into starting duty in his second season with the Cowboys, Kitna completed 18 of 24 pass attempts (75%) for 147 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions and a passer rating of 129.7. Even worse for the fans in Ford Field, Kitna sealed the 35-19 victory with a touchdown on a 29-yard bootleg scramble on fourth-and-1. (In his final four games with the Lions, Kitna rushed six times for 34 total yards.)

They said it: "At first, you kind of feel like they didn't do you right, but those people aren't there," Kitna replied when asked if beating the Lions was special. "And like I said, looking back on it, praise God for the process, taking me from there and bringing me here, because I really love it here and love being with these guys."

Contact Ryan Ford at rford@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @theford.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Matthew Stafford won't be only ex-Lion to roast Detroit in reunion