The Spartans were initially formed in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, drawing players from defunct independent professional and semi-pro teams in the Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia tri-state area. They immediately made an impact by twice defeating the Ironton Tanks, a nearby independent professional team who had regularly played NFL member teams since the early 1920s with considerable success. Portsmouth residents agreed to fund the construction of Universal Stadium, a venue comparable to those in neighboring communities along the Ohio River, prompting the NFL to offer league membership in 1930. Portsmouth became the NFL’s second smallest city, ahead of only Green Bay. During the team’s first year in the league it compiled a record of 5–6–3 in league contests.
Despite success on the field, low revenue and the Great Depression threatened the Spartans’ survival. On March 24, 1934, it was announced that a group led by George Richards, the owner of Detroit radio station WJR, bought the Spartans and moved them to Detroit for the 1934 season. Richards renamed the team the Lions, as a complement to the Detroit Tigers.
Originally based in Portsmouth, Ohio and called the Portsmouth Spartans, the team formally joined the NFL on July 12, 1930 and began play in the 1930 season. Despite success within the NFL, they could not survive in Portsmouth, then the NFL’s smallest city. The team was purchased and relocated to Detroit for the 1934 season.
Portsmouth – Detroit
1929 – Present / National Football League
1934 – Present / Detroit Lions
1929 – 1933 / Portsmouth Spartans
Spartans – Spartan tradition means one must be courageous. Spartan refers to a citizen of the ancient Greek polis of Sparta. Spartan was a warrior society in ancient Greece that reached the height of its power after defeating rival city-state Athens in the Peloponnesian War.
Super Bowl 0
NFL Championship 0
1957, 1953, 1952, 1935
2002 – Present / Ford Field
1975 – 2001 / Pontiac Silverdome
1938 – 1939, 1961 – 1974 / Tiger Stadium
1941 – 1960 / Briggs Stadium
1940 / University of Detroit Stadium
1934 – 1937 / University of Detroit Stadium
1929 – 1933 / Universal Stadium
2020 – Present / Sheila Ford Hamp
2015 – 2019 / Martha Firestone Ford
1964 – 2014 / William Clay Ford, Sr.
1948 – 1964 / Edwin J. Anderson
1940 – 1948 / Fred Mandel
1934 – 1940 / George A. Richards
1929 – 1933 / Town of Portsmouth
7 / Dutch Clark
20 / Lem Barney
20 / Billy Sims
20 / Barry Sanders
22 / Bobby Layne
37 / Doak Walker
56 / Joe Schmidt
85 / Chuck Hughes
*Blue is this team’s history