By Zane Miller
On Sunday, January 6th, 2002, a late touchdown pass and crucial interception helped the Detroit Lions to a 15-10 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in their final contest at the Pontiac Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan, which had been their home stadium for 26 seasons.
On September 19th, 1973, construction went underway for what would initially be named the Pontiac Metropolitan Stadium. The Lions played their final game at their previous home in Tiger Stadium during the 1974 season, before moving to Pontiac for 1975.
The Lions took a 7-7 record in their debut season in their new stadium, matching their record from the previous season. The team remained largely middle-of-the-road for the rest of the 1970s, while 1977 saw the stadium be renamed to the Pontiac Silverdome, a title it would keep for the remainder of its tenure as an NFL facility. On November 16th, 1999, construction began on the replacement stadium in Ford Field, which would be built in time to open for the 2002 season.
While the Lions would make the playoffs a total of eight times during their stay at the Silverdome, the team would never be able to become a serious championship threat, as they only made one postseason appearance past the first round, coming in 1991. In addition, 16 of the 26 seasons played in Pontiac resulted in losing records, with the 2001 campaign being among the worst of them.
Although the team scored a 9-7 record in the 2000, it would not translate at all into 2001. Any thoughts of the Lions having a competitive season would be quickly extinguished, as they were unable to score a win until after the season was three-quarters of the way over. Faced with a 1-14 record and looking to send off the Silverdome with a victory, they would be set to take on their final opponent in the Dallas Cowboys, in a game which was originally scheduled to take place in week two, but was postponed due to the September 11th terrorist attacks.
The Cowboys, like the Lions, were also in the midst of a terrible season, although their year was not quite as horrendous. Instead, Dallas would be faced with a 5-10 showing going into the season finale, while also being well outside of playoff contention.
The Lions sent out journeyman Ty Detmer at starting quarterback, who was seeking his first win in three years, last winning during the 1998 season as a member of the San Francisco 49ers. Detmer came into the game with an 0-3 record, taking the starting spot for the finale after an injury to regular starter Charlie Batch.
For the Cowboys, rookie quarterback Quincy Jones looked to improve on his 3-4 record on the year, as he also took the starting role late in the season following a variety of quarterback changes. With that, the stage was set to get the game underway.
Neither team would be able to establish the edge in the first half, as the Cowboys grabbed a slim 7-6 lead thanks to a short touchdown run courtesy of future Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith. Smith continued his stellar performance into the third quarter, as a 13-yard run allowed him to set a new league record with 11 straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons. However, the third quarter also saw the Lions claim the lead with a 47-yard field goal from longtime kicker Jason Hanson.
It didn’t take long into the fourth quarter before the Cowboys nabbed the lead once again, as Jon Hilbert hit a 33-yarder to make it a 10-9 game, in what would be the final field goal make of his NFL career. After the teams traded punts, the Lions would quickly work their way out of their own territory with back-to-back 20-yard runs from fullback Cory Schlesinger and running back Aveion Cason. After a few short yardage plays put Detroit into the red zone, it didn’t take long to capitalize on the opportunity as Detmer found veteran wide receiver Johnnie Morton for a 16-yard touchdown, appropriately ending as the final scoring drive in the Silverdome. Although the Lions’ two-point conversion attempt failed, the team would get the ball back just a few plays later, courtesy of a critical interception of Quincy Carter by another Carter, as safety Marty Carter claimed his final career pick on what had been a promising Cowboys drive.
Though a Lions punt would give Dallas one more chance to retake the lead, the defense held pat as they drove the Cowboys backwards four yards on the drive before eventually forcing a turnover on downs. A first down rush by running back James Stewart sealed the 15-10 victory for the Lions to end their tumultuous final season in Pontiac with a bang.
Though both sides would obviously finish with losing records, as the Lions claimed a 2-14 showing with the Cowboys going 5-11, and neither team would improve much in 2002. Dallas again went 5-11 that year to miss the playoffs for the third straight season, with the Lions, despite moving into Ford Field and drafting a new starting quarterback in Joey Harrington with the third overall pick, struggled to a 3-13 finish.
The Pontiac Silverdome would temporarily close following the Lions’ departure, before reopening in 2010 with renovation plans in place. However, on January 2nd, 2013, the roof of the stadium collapsed, causing these plans to be scrapped. With that, the Silverdome was demolished in 2018, with an Amazon distribution center opening in its place in 2021. Meanwhile, the Lions have continued to play at Ford Field, though they have been unable to secure a postseason victory since making the move.
Link to stats database: https://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/200201060det.htm