We are up to number 92 in our 100 Days, 100 Detroit Lions countdown. On this watercooler Monday, we pay tribute to the first Lion to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.
92. Steve Owens
Running Back. 1970-74 Detroit
Steve Owens was the 1969 Heisman Trophy winner out of the University of Oklahoma, yet many NFL scouts doubted that he would become a quality pro ballcarrier. They believed that he was a product of the Oklahoma system, and did not possess the speed or skills necessary to carry the load for an NFL team. Undeterred, the Lions made Owens their number-one overall choice in the 1970 college draft. He would impress the Lions with his solid running throughout the 1970 preseason. Then, in the team’s last warm-up versus the Cincinnati Bengals, he suffered a severe shoulder injury that would limit him to just six games and 36 carries as a rookie.
So the doubters remained numerous when the former Sooner star began the 1971 season. However, by the end of the year Owens’ critics had been silenced, as he became the first Lion ball-carrier in history to rush for over 1,000 yards in a single-season. Owens had pounded his way to 1,035 yards on 246 carries, averaging 4.2 yards-per-pop. His rushing total was the fourth highest in the league that season. In addition he led all Leo receivers in receptions with 32, for another 350 yards. He also scored 10 touchdowns. At season’s end, Owens had been voted Lion offensive MVP and earned a trip to the Pro Bowl.
Unfortunately, Owens would never play another full season in the NFL as numerous injuries took their toll on the Lion workhorse. He would retire after the 1974 season, having posted career numbers of 2,451 yards rushing on 635 carries (3.9 avg.), and 99 receptions for 861 yards. In addition, his 20-career rushing touchdowns rank eighth all-time in Lions’ history.