Martha Ford working 'day and night' to deliver Super Bowl to Lions fans

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

A new documentary, focusing on the NFL's four female owners, paints a clear picture of 93-year-old Detroit Lions owner Martha Firestone Ford as a highly active participant in the direction of her franchise, dedicated to the goal of bringing home the city's first Super Bowl championship. 

In the film, Firestone Ford recalls her earliest football memory, attending a Portsmouth Spartans game as a young child with her father, Harvey Firestone. The Spartans would ultimately relocate to Detroit, becoming the Lions, in 1934. 

Martha Firestone Ford

Firestone Ford married William Clay Ford in 1947. In 1963, at the prodding of his brother Henry II, he bought out the other shareholders to become the sole owner of the Lions. 

"She knew my father was passionate about it, so she figured if they were going to have things to talk about, she better learn football, and so she did,” daughter and Lions vice chairman Sheila Ford Hamp said. 

To enhance her knowledge of football, Firestone Ford would attend every game with a portable radio and listen to longtime broadcaster Van Patrick call the action. 

Firestone Ford took over ownership of the Lions following the passing of her husband in 2014. In the time since, the team has compiled a 42-38 record and two playoff appearances.

Her first big decision came in the midst of a dreadful start to the 2015 campaign, when she fired general manager Martin Mayhew and longtime team president Tom Lewand. 

"I thought we needed a new staff, and that kind of worried me, but I was sure it was the right thing, that it wasn’t difficult to do," Firestone Ford said. "Afterwards, I picked up the phone and called (NFL commissioner) Roger Goodell and said, ‘What am I going to do?’ Roger said, ‘Well, we have several consultants that work for the league and you choose one to help you.’"

That led to the Lions hiring Ernie Accorsi, who helped the franchise identify general manager Bob Quinn as a leading candidate. During the search, the New England Patriots offered Accorsi a brief window to meet with Quinn, the team's pro personnel director, at the team's facility in Foxboro, Mass., during their playoff run.

Accorsi offered to meet with Quinn on his own and report back, but Firestone Ford insisted on attending and participating in the interview. 

The Lions would eventually hire Quinn to replace Mayhew, and two years later, would pluck away another Patriots employee, defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, to coach the franchise. 

"She’s very sharp," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "She’s so passionate about their team, about the city of Detroit, about the Lions fans and I have a great deal of respect for that. She works very hard to put her team in the best possible position to win and be competitive."

The documentary also highlighted Ford's perfect attendance at league meetings since taking over the franchise, impressing some of the league's other owners with her participation. 

"There’s no doubt, when you go to the league meetings, she’s anything but your typical 93-year-old," Giants owner John Mara said. "She’s extremely energetic. She’s extremely with-it. She understands everything that’s going on in the National Football League and she’s very focused on her team and on the league in general. She is a remarkable woman."

Other segments from the documentary focus on Detroit's Thanksgiving Day tradition, Firestone Ford's weekly routine running the team and her friendship with Chicago Bears owner Virginia McCaskey. 

But more than anything, it hammers home Firestone Ford's passion for the franchise and its fans. 

"I love doing it," she said. "That’s why I do it. It’s not for any ulterior reason, I just love being part of it.I just want a winning team for all our fans. They deserve it.

"I’m working on it, day and night," she said. "My best memory hasn’t come yet. I want to get the Lombardi Trophy."

"A Lifetime of Sundays" premiered on ESPN on Sunday afternoon and will re-air on ABC next Sunday, Sept. 1, at 3:30 p.m.