100 Days, 100 Detroit Lions: #96 Bob Mann

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With kickoff to the Detroit Lions 2012 season just three days away, we are up to number 96 in the 100 Days, 100 Detroit Lions countdown. Reggie Brown, Cory Schlesinger, Charlie Weaver and James Jones have already made the cut. Today, waketheherd.com pays tribute to the first 1,000 yard receiver in Lions’ history.

96. Bob Mann

Offensive End. 1948-49 Detroit; 1950-54 Green Bay Packers

During his short two-year stint with the Lions, Bob Mann became part of two milestones that will forever keep him connected to the franchise. The first milestone came before he even suited up for his first Detroit game. In 1948, Mann and teammate Mel Groomes became the first black players to sign with the Lions. While it was Groomes who was signed 72 hours before Mann, likely because Mel had previously played for then-Lions’ head coach Bo McMillin at the University of Indiana, it would be Mann would make a bigger impact on Detroit’s gridiron.

Mann led the Lions in receiving yardage as a rookie, collecting 560 yards on 33 receptions. Then in 1949, Mann broke his second milestone. He became the first receiver in franchise history, and only the fourth receiver, to that point, in NFL history to gain 1,000 yards in a single-season. Mann would gain 1,014 yards on 66 grabs, with four of the passes going for touchdowns. His yardage total would edge out future Los Angeles Ram Hall of Famer, Tom Fears, by one-yard for the NFL lead, while Fears’ 77 catches would edge out Mann for the league-lead in that category.

When Mann was told by Lion President Edwin Anderson to take a $1,500 pay cut in 1950 to help the financially strapped Lions, he refused to sign. Anderson then fired Mann from his sales position at Goebel Beer, where Anderson also served as President. Next, Mann found himself on the Lion trading block, ultimately winding up with the New York Bulldogs. Who was the player the Lions received in exchange for their first 1,000 yard receiver? None other than the quarterback who would spearhead the Lions climb to two-straight NFL Championships . . . Bobby Layne.

Despite his immense talents, Bob would be cut by the Bulldogs before the start of the 1950 season because of what he believed to be a blackballing by the Lions and NFL front office. He would sign that November with Green Bay, becoming the first black player in Packers’ history. He would play 38-career games for the Packers, catching 109 passes for 1,629 yards and 17 touchdowns, before a knee injury forced him to retire in 1954. Mann, who was inducted into the Packers’ Hall of Fame in 1989, remains only one of thirteen players in Lions’ history to gain 1,000 yards receiving in a single-season.