If you are a business, social or pro football Lion, you do not argue with the Ford family.
This fact of Michigan life has been made clear recently to one D. Lyle Fife, who qualifies under all three lion categories. Fife, an electrical contractor who was once president of the Detroit Lions football club and who has recently been trying to regain control of it, seemed to be making some headway until William Clay Ford, the 35-year-old grandson of Henry and brother of Henry II, aligned himself with Fife's personal nemesis, Edwin J. Anderson, the general manager of the Lions. Suddenly, from being a sort of tripartite king of beasts, Fife was changed into a latter-day Daniel in the Lions' den, with prospects of winding up as a blue plate special rather than a legend.
It all began some 13 years ago, when Anderson, Fife and some other industrialists in Detroit bought the last-place Lions from Fred Mandel. Fife became president and Anderson vice-president.
In 1949 the Lions struggled up to fifth place. In November of that year, the middle of the football season, Fife, who intended to, and eventually did, marry his secretary, Mary (Judy) Hohnstine, filed for divorce from his wife of 33 years, and a month later Mrs. Fife filed a cross action charging that he "had fled to Europe with another woman." The other woman was never named in the suit, but the Lions' board of directors, known then and now as a "country club board," did not relish that kind of publicity. At this point the stories of precisely what happened take separate courses.
"I didn't even know Fife well," Anderson says. "I hadn't met him before he joined the syndicate to buy the Lions, and I didn't get him into the syndicate. I had nothing to do with firing him as president, and I was not anxious to take over as president myself. I had a full-time job as president of Goebel's brewery."
The other version has it that Fife was indeed Anderson's close friend and, although it was in the middle of the football season, he took Anderson's advice to go to Europe until the feeling about his impending divorce calmed down.
" Fife asked Anderson to keep him informed of how things were going back home," one of the then directors explains. "Andy was his sounding board. One day Andy sent a cable that went something like, 'Things are tight, suggest you resign'—which Fife did forthwith. When he got back it was hard for Fife to tell if Andy had given him the proper steer."
At any rate, Fife was out and Anderson was in as club president. As the years passed, Fife became convinced that Anderson had very deftly eased him out. During the next decade the Lions improved so much that they won three world championships and four division titles before tailing off in 1958 and 1959. In June of 1958 Anderson was ousted from his job as president of the Goebel Brewery. The Lions, believing that Anderson had lost his job because he had devoted too much of his time to their organization, took him on as general manager at $40,000 per year.
"My work at the brewery suffered," Anderson said. "You can't split time without having something suffer."