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On This Date in Sports December 22, 1957: Lions Roar Back

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The Detroit Lions rally to beat the San Francisco 49ers 31-27 in a tiebreaker playoff at Kezar Stadium for the Western Conference Championship in the NFL. The Lions trailed 27-7 early in the third quarter and scored 24 unanswered points to win the game. Leading the Lions' comeback was running back Tom Tracy, who had a pair of third quarter touchdowns, including a 58-yard run. The Lions would win their third NFL Championship in six years.

In the era before the Super Bowl, the NFL Championship Game was the year’s only guaranteed playoff game. That game was played between the winners of the Eastern and Western Conferences in the 1950s. At that time, the NFL would hold a tiebreaker playoff if two teams finished atop the conference. In 1957, the Detroit Lions and San Francisco 49ers finished at 8-4 and played a tiebreaker for a trip to the NFL Championship Game.

The Lions and 49ers split their two meetings in the regular season, with the 49ers, coached by Frankie Albert, winning in San Francisco 35-31 on November 3rd, with the Lions, led by George Wilson, bouncing back with a 31-10 win in Detroit. The Lions limped into the game without their star quarterback Bobby Layne who broke his leg late in the season.

Things looked good early for San Francisco as they jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, with Y.A. Tittle connecting with R.C. Owens on a 34-yard touchdown pass and hitting Hugh McElhenny on a 47-yard scoring pass. Tobin Rote got Detroit on the board with a four-yard touchdown pass to Steve Junker in the second quarter. However, the Niners answered as Tittle had his third touchdown pass caught by Billy Wilson from 12 yards out. After Gordie Soltau hit a 25-yard field goal, San Francisco had a 24-7 halftime lead. The 49ers assumed the game was over at the half and began celebrating. After sleepwalking in the first half, the Lions heard the party and came out with extra motivation. The motivation was not enough initially, as the 49ers added another Soltau field goal to make it 27-7 in the third quarter. However, the rest of the way, it was all Lions, as Tom Tracy had a pair of touchdown runs to cut the deficit to 27-21. As the fourth quarter began, Detroit took control, taking the lead on a two-yard run by Gene Gedman. The stunned 49ers never got back on track, as the Lions added a field goal by Jim Martin to win the game 31-27.

The Lions would play the Cleveland Browns in the NFL Championship Game for the fourth time in six years, winning 59-14 for their third title of the decade.