Jack Christiansen Detroit Lions

"It was like putting together a good pie. If you get the finest ingredients and do a skillful job of blending them together, you get a superior product. Well, our backfield was like that.”

Because he felt he was too small, Jack Christiansen didn't even plan to play college football. He first thought that he would concentrate as a sprinter on the track team at Colorado State. But he was coaxed out for football as a sophomore and he starred in the very first game he ever played. From then on for the next three years, Christiansen was a star as a return man, on defense, and as a ball carrier.

Still his size – 6-1 and 162 pounds at the time – may have left some doubts in the minds of some pro scouts whether he could make it in professional football. But the Lions did draft him in 1951 and, right from the start, he enjoyed spectacular success. In one crucial contest against the Los Angeles Rams as a rookie, Christiansen scored twice on punt returns of 69 and 47 yards. He also scored on two punt returns (71 and 89 yards) against the Green Bay Packers that season. So effective as a punt returner, teams were forced to change their defensive strategy.

Soon all the teams were using the spread punt formation to try to contain the elusive Christiansen. As great as he was on the return teams, Jack's forte was defense and he was the key man for the defensively-strong Lions, who in the 1950s dominated the National Football League with four divisional and three world championships.

The defensive backfield of the Lions became known as “Chris’ Crew,” in recognition of Christiansen’s leadership and outstanding play. On the field, he was the defensive boss and ran the show. He led the league in interceptions in 1953 and tied for the league lead in 1957. Just like teams did on punt formations, opposing teams altered their passing patterns against Detroit. Many clubs had a standard rule when playing Detroit — don't throw in Christiansen's area, and don't punt to him. Christiansen played eight seasons with the Lions from 1951-58 and was named All-Pro six consecutive years (1952-1957) and played in five consecutive Pro Bowls (1954-1958).