The Raiders and Detroit Lions don’t play each other often, but when they do, it’s generally for a special occasion.
The special occasion on Dec. 10, 1990 was a matchup of two superstar heavyweights. In one corner, the two-sport star for the Raiders, Bo Jackson. In the other corner was the reigning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and future Hall of Fame running back, Barry Sanders.
Unlike many of the high-scoring dramatic endings detailed in this spot over the past month or so that started out light-scoring and became shootouts in the second half, this contest featured two teams who came out with guns blazing from the onset.
Sanders started out the scoring just two minutes and change into the game with an electric 35-yard touchdown run.
Jay Schroeder and Willie Gault answered back just 26 seconds later, as they hooked up for a 68-yard touchdown pass. On that play, Schroeder threw a perfect deep touch pass down the middle of the field and Gault tracked it beautifully, falling to the ground to secure it. No Lions defender touched him down, so Gault got up and slithered the remainder of the way to the end zone.
☠️ #60Seasons Series— AFL GODFATHER (@NFLMAVERICK) December 11, 2019
On December 10, 1990 the #Raiders caged the Lions 38-31 @ the Pontiac Silverdome. In spite of #HOF Barry Sanders' 192 total offensive yards & 2 Tds, Los Angeles led a comeback to move closer to a AFC Western Division crown. pic.twitter.com/GL1FYp9kXH
The home team answered right back though, quickly moving the ball down the field to set up a leisurely 5-yard stroll into the end zone for the greatest running back I’ve personally ever watched.
Speaking of great running backs, Marcus Allen—clearly at the end of his prime, but nonetheless valuable—would answer for the Raiders with a 2-yard score. The Raiders actually used some clock this time, waiting until over midway through the first quarter to tie the score.
The Lions weren’t done though. They would move the ball down the field once more in the first quarter, this time finishing a drive with a Rodney Peete scoring strike to Jeff Campbell, a 5-foot-8 rookie receiver from the University of Colorado.
The damage was done in what was one of the most exciting first quarters Monday Night Football has ever seen. The Lions took a 21-14 lead into the second.
The over/under for the game was 43, and the two teams weren’t far off from matching it after one stanza. And that was without either heavyweight landing a knockout punch.
Not to be forgotten though, following a 47-yard field goal by Eddie Murray to make it 24-14, Bo Jackson would provide a blow that would silence the Pontiac Silverdome and remind fans everywhere of just how dynamic the former Heisman Trophy winner was.
Jackson took a handoff designed to go off left tackle, waited until the last second to allow that final block to emerge, then cut inside the tight end, shook off a couple would-be tacklers and allowed his speed to kick in. He scored from 55 yards out to cut the Lions’ lead, which they would hold at halftime, to 24-21.
Looking at the separate long touchdown runs Sanders and Jackson had illuminates the difference between the stars. Barry was fast, but he relied mostly on the greatest elusiveness the game has ever seen. He wasn’t big, but he could not be tackled in the open field. On his 35-yard scamper, he got to the second level, put a spin move on a poor unassuming Raiders defender, and then put on the afterburners.
Mind you, this was against a Raiders defense that still had Howie Long, Jerry Robinson, Greg Townsend, and Aaron Wallace, each of whom recorded a sack in the game.
On Jackson’s run, he used a bit of a patience and a lot of speed. Jackson would make Sanders look like a little kid. Strong as an ox was Jackson, but his real gift was truly rare speed. If there are five players who have ever put on shoulder pads that were faster than Bo, I’d like to know.
The second half was a little less eventful, but that’s in comparison to the wild first quarter. The reality is the Raiders defense, filled with a host of really good players and a nasty spirit, got the best of the Lions by constantly pestering Peete and even forcing the normally secure ball handler, Sanders, to fumble.
The Raiders caused two turnovers in the second half, and would use them to take control of the game.
Schroeder threw short touchdowns in the third quarter—one to Mervyn Fernandez from 10 yards out, the other to another all-time great, Tim Brown, from 3 yards out.
The tide had swung and the Raiders, under first-year head coach Art Shell, had more or less landed the knockout punch in the third quarter.
The Lions wouldn’t give in, as Peete would rush for a 6-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to make it a four point game at 35-31.
But after a Jeff Jaeger 37-yard field goal, the Raiders led 38-31, the game’s final tally.
The Raiders took the Lions best swings and held on for an important win that took the team to a 9-4 record, inching them ever closer to another playoff appearance.
The real winners, though, were the fans who got to witness greatness on the field in so many forms.