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Why doesn’t the rest of the NFC North think of the Lions as a rival?

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The Bears, Packers, and Vikings all hate each other. And also acknowledge the Lions’ right to football twice a year.

Green Bay Packers v Detroit Lions Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The NFC North is home to some of the NFL’s most successful franchises. And also the Detroit Lions.

The Packers, Vikings, and Bears have combined for five Super Bowl titles, 11 Super Bowl appearances, 17 NFL Championships, and 71 playoff wins. That’s created a pressure cooker in the division, where iron has sharpened iron to create some of the league’s most passionate rivalries.

Green Bay and Minnesota hate each other to the point where Wisconsin’s governor resorted to tagging US Bank Stadium’s construction supplies and the Vikings made a concerted effort to remove and restore the offending steel beam (Gov. Walker may have inadvertently cursed his home team in the process). Minnesota and Chicago hate each other enough that a Bears’ Wild Card win over the Vikings in January 1995 got its own 2017 DVD remembrance. And Green Bay and Chicago hate each other a ton, probably because they’ve played each other more than any two teams in NFL history.

The Lions? They’re occasionally competitive and usually up to spoil the rest of the division’s fun, but they don’t inspire the kind of long-burning loathing the division’s other three teams encompass.

Detroit’s decades-long postseason victory drought has made the Lions an afterthought in the NFC North

The Lions, despite holding four NFL titles, have never been to a Super Bowl. The club has one postseason victory since 1957, a Divisional Round rout of the Dallas Cowboys after the 1991 season. They’ve never beaten a current member of the NFC North in the playoffs.

So maybe that’s why no team in the division — and no team in the NFL, period — wants to claim Detroit as its primary rival. When a recent FanPulse survey asked fans across the league to identify the team they love to hate the most, no one made the Lions their first choice. In fact, no fans in the NFC North chose the Lions at all.

Who is your team’s biggest rival? (FanPulse poll)

Team No. 1 rival (% of responses) No. 2 rival No. 3 rival
Team No. 1 rival (% of responses) No. 2 rival No. 3 rival
Chicago Bears Packers (84%) Vikings (16%)
Green Bay Packers Bears (51%) Vikings (44%) Seahawks (5%)
Minnesota Vikings Packers (69%) Saints (16%) Bears (15%)
Detroit Lions Packers (71%) Bears (23%) Vikings (5%)

Granted, this is just an online survey and the Vikings didn’t even get the Lions as an option, but the responses from Green Bay and Chicago fans suggest adding Detroit to the poll wouldn’t have made a difference. Packers fans’ responses to the question is especially rough on the Lions.

Green Bay has played Seattle 14 times since 2000. The team has played Detroit 37 times in that span. But that familiarity wasn’t enough for Packers fans to think the Lions are a bigger rival than the team that gave them the Fail Mary in 2012.

But the rest of the NFC North is hot fire, and it all starts with the Packers

Green Bay exists in a major sports vacuum. Its stadium sits in the middle of a city of 104,000. If you moved the team 90 minutes south to Milwaukee, it would still play in the nation’s 35th-biggest media market. The Packers occupy a non-especially crowded corner of a state known for beer, cheese, cold weather, and a current of friendliness that ties the three together.

And yet, everyone else in the NFC North hates the Packers.

The simplest explanation for the rivalry is Green Bay’s success. The Packers ability to win NFL championships early in their existence poured the foundation for a city with four public high schools to keep a franchise in one of the world’s most lucrative pro sports leagues. As the Lions have proven, opponents aren’t taking aim at the bottom — they care about the team at the top. With 13 league titles and four Super Bowl wins, that target falls squarely on the Pack.

Another reason could be the fanbase. As friendly as Wisconsinites typically are, there’s a very resent-able feeling of entitlement that comes with nicknaming your 100k-strong, one-sports-team-having city “Titletown.” Packers fans are very nice and generous people who prefer brandy to whiskey and are willing to hand you a nip of either — I’ve lived in Madison, Wisconsin, long enough to see this in person. They’re also, loud, obnoxious when they’re winning, and know more than enough about their team and its traditions to ply you with stories that intertwine truth and bullshit at a breakneck pace.

So congratulations to the Packers, the nexus of the greatest rivalries in one of the league’s most storied divisions. And a hearty shrug to the Lions, who are only 50 years of sustained success away from working their way back up the rivalry ranks. At least you’ve always got Cloverleaf Pizza, Detroit.