"We needed that lead," Clark says. "We had gotten a taste of what it was like to play against a Billy Sims—I'm talking about that little Joe Delaney of theirs—and we didn't like it. We had to make them throw."
That's where the pass rush came in. The Silver Rush is what they call it in Detroit, and it's another reason for liking the Lions down the stretch. Reading from left to right: Dave Pureifory, William Gay, Doug English, Bubba Baker. It's one of the NFL's finest defensive lines, also the most unsung. And it's doubly gifted; it can close down the run and also get to the quarterback. It is up among the league leaders in fines, too.
Gay got hit for $2,000 when he speared Packer Quarterback Lynn Dickey. Baker may soon pay the price for going up high on the Bears' Vince Evans two games ago. "I didn't even hit him with my helmet—my facemask was what got him," says Baker in self-defense. English will probably have to donate $500 to the Brian Piccolo cancer fund, the recipient of all league fines, because he got thrown out of the Kansas City game for trading punches with a reserve tackle, Roger Taylor.
In the old days, Lion defensive lines were known for their meanness. Weeb Ewbank tells a story about when Alan (The Horse) Ameche was a young, foolish fullback for Ewbank's Baltimore Colts and gave an interview in which he said playing in the NFL wasn't really that tough after all.
"The next team we faced was the Lions," Ewbank says, "and all day long those real mean guys on their defensive line, like Wild Hoss Mains and Darris McCord, were yelling at Ameche, 'Come this way, Horsie,' and 'Nice Horsie.' I want to tell you, they worked him over something fierce."
That was yesterday. Today, quarterbacks' helmets are wired into Pete Rozelle's office, and when one of them is touched, a buzzer goes off and dollar figures light up on the board. The Lions lead the NFC with 42 sacks, and as K.C.'s Bill Kenney and Steve Fuller learned, the NFL's fine schedule has hardly dampened their enthusiasm.
"It might make you think twice," English says. "We do have to watch our P's and Q's, but I'm glad to see we're playing just as hard as ever. People who don't know us might think we're a bunch of guys who go around beating up quarterbacks, but that's just not true. We've all been around, and we know all of them personally and they know us. They know that we're not bad guys. It's just that, well, when you're flying around out there, sometimes it's tough to put on the brakes. Monte's defensive system is geared to the all-out rush. He has his defensive linemen penetrating hard and reading on the run, which is what I love to do.
"A lot of people ask me if the year's layoff [English retired for a year in 1980 to look after his oil business] has hurt me, but I think I'm playing better now than I ever did. I got healthy again. In '79 I had to get both knees taped. They were loose toward the end of the year. Now they're fine."
The 1979 season was one the Lions would rather forget. The only good that came of it was Sims, the first pick in the draft, a result of their 2-14 record.
"Things got so bad that year it was almost funny," says Gay, who was converted to defensive left tackle after being a tight end at USC. "We'd be arguing with each other on the field. 'Hey, do you know what you're doing?' I used to hear that all the time. You'd almost have to laugh. There was a lot of despair out there."