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Red Wings, Lions played in championship trilogies, too

Associated Press
Bobby Layne

While there have been 14 rematches in NBA Finals history, this year’s meeting between LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers and Stephen Curry’s Golden State Warriors will be the first trilogy in league history.

There have been three trilogies in U.S. pro sports history and two of them involved Detroit teams – the Red Wings vs. the Montreal Canadiens, the Lions vs. the Cleveland Browns and the New York Yankees vs. the New York Giants (1921-23).

Red Wings vs. Canadiens (1954-56): The first matchup of this trilogy started with one of the most memorable in 1954. In a series full of megastars like Howe, Terry Sawchuk, Ted Lindsay and Red Kelly in Detroit, and Maurice Richard, Jean Beliveau, Doug Harvey and Boom Boom Geoffrion in Montreal, it was an unsung player who became the hero.

In overtime in Game 7, Red Wings forward Tony Leswick got credit for the series-clinching goal when his innocent looking shot from the point was deflected by Harvey past Gerry McNeil for a 2-1 win 4:29 into OT. There hasn’t been a Game 7 overtime since in the Finals.

The Red Wings won the rematch in an all home team seven-game series the following year. Howe set a record with 12 points in the round and Lindsay scored four goals in a Game 2 win. Richard missed the series because of a suspension for slashing Boston’s Hal Laycoe in the head and punching linesman Cliff Thompson. Detroit didn’t win another Stanley Cup for 42 years.

With Richard back, the Canadiens won the following year in five games with the Rocket getting the game-winning goal in the clincher. That was the first of a record five straight titles for the Canadiens.

Browns vs. Lions (1952-54): These teams that have spent much of the post-merger days near the bottom of the standings were the cream of the crop in the 1950s led by star quarterback Otto Graham and innovative coach Paul Brown in Cleveland, and Lions Hall of Fame passer Bobby Layne and running back Doak Walker.

In the first championship meeting in 1952, Layne and Walker ran for TDs to give the Lions a 17-7 win and their first championship since 1935.

Detroit became the league’s third repeat winner in the championship game the following season when Layne threw a 33-yard TD pass to Jim Doran with just over two minutes remaining for a 17-16 victory.

The Browns came out on top the following year, ending a run of three straight title game losses (they also lost to the Rams in 1951). The Lions won the regular-season finale the week before the title game and scored first on a field goal by Walker.

But it was all Browns after that with Graham throwing three TD passes and running for three more in a 56-10 win.