The Ford Family: Should be Recalled


The Ford Family: Should be Recalled

By Jacob Walters

Your franchise has been in a funk for the better part of your life.  Ownership patently cares far less about fielding a winning team than being subsidized with obscene profits from an NFL revenue-share welfare program.  Add the sort of incompetent ownership that doesn’t know how to win… for more than half a century.   

For a city ripe with sports history like Detroit, William Clay Ford Sr. and his family are the bane of its existence.  Under the Ford Family ownership, the Detroit Lions have only won 41% of their games, dating from 1963 to 2014. In that timeframe, Ford Sr. had only hired four general managers (Nick Kerbawy, Chuck Schmidt, Matt Millen, and Martin Mayhew).  All were originally from the Lions organization, which is surprising considering the Lions only have woe and misery as a part of their history.

Ford Sr. was Ford Motor Company’s Design Committee chairman from 1957 to 1989. Originally a member of the company’s board of directors, Ford Sr. became the majority owner of the Detroit Lions on November 22, 1963.  Ford Sr. took advantage of a power struggle between Edwin Anderson and D. Lyle Fife, gaining complete control of the franchise by buying out the other 144 shareholders for $4.5 million. Ford Sr. passed away on March 9, 2014, with the franchise being shifted to Martha Firestone Ford’s control.

The Ford family may have taken over the operations for the deceased Ford Sr., however much of the Lions’ past incompetence extrapolated under his watch.  Gaudy public funding for the Silverdome didn’t distract from nor reverse the constant losing. Endless amounts of losing. The Lions are the only NFC team to never make the Super Bowl.  That was a Jeopardy! question and you have Clay Ford Sr. and his family to thank for that.

You can take your pick amongst the myriad of “Same Ol’ Lions” moments and memories. Lions fans will remember Marty Mornhinweg taking the wind when the Lions won the coin toss in an overtime game against the Bears.  Older Lions fans will remember Tom Dempsey nailing a record-breaking 63-yard field goal against the Lions… with a wooden leg. All Lions fans will remember the 0-16 season, the first of its kind in the NFL, along with the Millen era (who actually warned Clay Ford Sr. about hiring him due to his lack of front office expertise).   Shannon Sharpe ripping the organization for being a Thanksgiving staple, and Lomas Brown’s guarantee of a playoff victory against the Philadelphia Eagles in 1995 (the Eagles destroyed the Lions in that game by a score of 58-37).  All of this happened under Clay Ford Sr.’s watch.

Don’t forget that Clay Ford Sr. and the Lions had two once-in-a-generation talents in Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson. Both retired early due to the lack of a competitive team and/or injuries. In fact, neither player has been on speaking terms with the organization.  Calvin Johnson recently did a candid interview with Sports Illustrated, describing the dysfunction of the entire Lions organization. He talked about how the Ford family asked Johnson for his $1 million signing bonus back in 2017 and how he’s willing to make peace with the Lions if they give Johnson his signing bonus back.  

Clay Ford Sr. got $55 million in public funds to build the Pontiac Silverdome in 1974, not a pittance for that time. The deteriorating facility was sold at an auction for $583,000 in 2009 Under financial emergency, the city of Pontiac paid $1.5 million a year in roof maintenance and other expenses for the Silverdome. Talk about your bad investments.

Some fans are lucky enough to see the bad owner(s) of their team sell their stake to someone that wants to win (the Brooklyn Nets and Golden State Warriors come to mind). Unfortunately, Lions fans will never get to have that luxury in their lifetime. According to Leon LaBrecque, CEO of LJPR Financial Advisors in Troy, Michigan, the Ford family would lose hundreds of millions of dollars in capital gains taxes. LeBrecque explains the situation here to a tee.

You may be miserable with your owner who’s playing a kazoo rather than running his basketball team (glares at James Dolan) or has gotten in some business deal with Bernie Madoff (glares at Fred Wilpon).  However, your franchise will either sell the team or be competitive in the near future. Lions fans will never get to taste that luxury as long as the Ford family holds the reins. Focus on William Clay Ford Sr. and his family as being the worst owner(s) in all of sports.


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