Michigan’s Forgotten Football Champions

Forget the never ending disappointment that is the Detroit Lions for a moment. Michigan actually has seen some pretty amazing professional football success over the past few decades. It’s very possible you missed these under the radar teams, or perhaps they were before your time. Either way, if you find yourself depressed by the Lions perhaps some of Michigan’s professional football glory from yesteryear can brighten your day. Let’s look at some former championship teams.

The Michigan Panthers

If you follow football you likely saw the quick rise and fall of leagues like the UFL, the AAF, XFL (slated for its second go around in 2020), and the World League of American Football. Prior to these leagues biting the dust, however, there was a league that stuck around for a while and managed to pull in a bunch of top notch talent – the USFL. The league originally saw some success playing a Spring schedule before making the ill-advised move to try to take on the NFL head to head, which ultimately led to the league’s demise. That said, owners threw some major money around and brought in Hall of Fame level talents like Herschel Walker, Jim Kelly, and Steve Young.

Michigan’s franchise, the Panthers, also boasted some top notch talent including former University of Michigan wide receiver Anthony Carter and quarterback Bobby Hebert. Both went on to have successful NFL careers after their stints in the USFL. In 1983, the stars aligned for the team and they knocked off Oakland to reach the championship (the fans even tore down the goal posts after that game!) and then took out the league’s most dominant team, the Philadelphia Stars, in the championship game. Over 50,000 people were in attendance for the game to watch the 24-22 victory. You can watch the whole game below.

The Detroit Drive

The Arena Football League is still alive and well, though there’s no longer a franchise in Detroit. In the early years of the league, Detroit was the most dominant franchise, playing in six consecutive Arena Bowls starting in Arena Bowl II, winning four championships along the way. In these days, players almost exclusively played both sides of the ball. Stars for the Drive included WR/DB George LaFrance, winner of three Arena Bowl MVP awards and former Ohio State quarterback Art Schlichter. You can check out some old Detroit Drive highlights below.

The Grand Rapids Rampage

Not to be outdone by the Detroit Drive’s success, Grand Rapids’ short lived franchise, the Rampage, also managed to earn an Arena Bowl championship in 2001 defeating the Nashville Kats at Van Andel Arena in front of 11,217 fans. That team was led by quarterback Clint Dolezel who played 13 years for six different AFL franchises. Check out the highlights of Grand Rapids’ lone championship below.

So, yes, we may not see a professional football championship in the state of Michigan again in our lifetimes, but it doesn’t hurt to relive a few of our past glories.

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