By Zane Miller
The Detroit Lions put together a solid season in 1961, taking an 8-5-1 record to reach the postseason, although the Lions would only finish second in the Western Conference to qualify for the Playoff Bowl consolation game, which they won over the Philadelphia Eagles 38-10. Meanwhile, Cleveland Browns quarterback Milt Plum scored a winning record with 18 touchdown passes and 2,416 passing yards to also help Cleveland to an 8-5-1 finish. In the offseason, the Lions and Browns orchestrated a trade, sending Plum over to Detroit to be the full-time starter for 1962.
Despite the somewhat disappointing regular season in 1961, the team was able to successfully bounce back in 1962 with an impressive 11-3 season, with Plum being the starter for every one of those games in his first season with the team after spending four seasons at the helm of the Browns.
Plum’s most sensational quarterbacking effort in both passing touchdowns and passing yards came early in the season on September 23rd, as he scored four passing touchdowns for 272 yards to light up the San Francisco 49ers. Three of the touchdowns would come in the first half with the fourth being the opening score of the third quarter, allowing the Lions to go up 31-10. While the 49ers would get a pair of passing touchdowns of their own to cut Detroit’s advantage down to just a one-possession game, the Lions would respond with a pair of rushing touchdowns from running back Dan Lewis to seal a 45-24 victory.
However, Plum would have his worst game of the season in the Lions’ lone shutout loss on December 16th against the Chicago Bears, struggling for only 90 passing yards while also giving up an interception before being pulled in favor of Earl Morall, who also failed to jumpstart the offense. Although Detroit’s defense did an amazing job to keep themselves in the game, it would not be enough as Bears kicker Roger LeClerc scored the game’s only points in the fourth quarter to win the game 3-0.
Plum completed 1962 with 15 passing touchdowns and 2,378 passing yards, finishing in a tie with Dallas Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith for 10th in touchdowns that season, while placing ninth in yardage behind Bart Starr of the Green Bay Packers with 2,438. The Cowboys took a 5-8-1 record to miss the postseason, while the Packers went 13-1 to reach the NFL title game for a third consecutive season.
Unfortunately for the Lions, they also played in the Western Conference along with the Packers, relegating Detroit to the second-place spot in the conference and leading to a third straight Playoff Bowl appearance, this time against fellow conference runner-up Pittsburgh Steelers. The Lions came out on top over the Steelers 17-10 to earn the third spot in the final standings for the third year in a row, although this would be the final time that the Lions would play in the consolation matchup. Plum had mixed results during the contest, getting intercepted once but also throwing for a touchdown, with a longest pass play of 74 yards in the victory.
Although Plum would not have another double-digit win season outside of 1962, he would continue to play for the Lions through the 1967 season, eventually retiring from the NFL following the 1969 campaign.
With all of the statistics in mind, I grade Plum’s 1962 season at a B, as while he was able to lead the Lions to a postseason appearance, he finished at the bottom of the top 10 in both major passing categories which isn’t particularly impressive with the league only consisting of 14 teams at that point.
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