In this editon of 100 Days, 100 Detroit Lions, we pay tribute to a Detroit native and former University of Detroit star who anchored the Detroit Lions’ offensive line that paved the way for Bobby Layne and company during the Lions run to back-to-back NFL titles in 1952 and 1953.
48. Vince Banonis
Center / Linebacker. 1951-53 Detroit; 1942 Chicago Cardinals; 1944 Card-Pitt Combine; 1946-50 Chicago Cardinals
Banonis, a native of Detroit, grew up watching the great Lion teams of the 1930’s play their games at the old University of Detroit Stadium. He played football at Detroit Catholic Central and Detroit Mercy before being drafted by the Chicago Cardinals in the fourth-round of the 1942 NFL draft. Minus a stint in the military during World War II, the 6-foot-1, 230 pound Banonis would play for the Cardinals from 1942 through the 1950 season. He helped the Cardinals to their only NFL Championship Game appearances in 1947 and 1948, winning the first, 28-21, over the Philadelphia Eagles. Vince was a skilled two-way performer during most of his eleven-year career, intercepting 14 passes, and earning numerous All-League honors at center with the Cardinals.
It was during his time in Chicago that Banonis made the acquaintance of one Raymond K. Parker, who was better known to everyone by his nickname “Buddy.” Buddy and Vince were teammates on the Cardinals in 1942, playing under legendary Hall of Fame coach Jimmy Conzelman. When Vince returned to the team in 1944, Buddy had become a Cardinal assistant coach. In 1946, Conzelman returned to the Cardinal’s top job for one last run at the championship. With Parker his top assistant, and Vince as his starting center and linebacker, Conzelman’s Cardinals claimed their last championship.
Fast forward to 1951 . . . Buddy Parker is getting ready to begin his first season as the new coach of the Detroit Lions. Buddy knew that he needed a few veterans to provide experienced leadership for his talented, but young, Leos. Two of those vets became Banonis and his Cardinal teammate, fullback Pat Harder. Parker would trade for both of his former colleagues before the start of the ‘51 season. The moves would pay off, as Vince and Pat would help Parker’s offense tremendously over the next three seasons. With Vince anchoring the offensive line, and Harder pounding out the tough yards and protecting quarterback Bobby Layne, the Lions would claim their first winning record in six years in 1951. Parker’s Lions would follow that with back-to-back NFL titles in 1952, and ‘53. Both Banonis and Harder would retire after the 1953 season, and the Lions would go onto further greatness without them. However, there remains little doubt that they were both major reasons why that young Lion team gelled so quickly and would go on to become the NFL’s preeminent dynasty of the 1950’s.