Today in Music History: Marvin Gaye tries out for the NFL's Detroit Lions

July 1970 - Marvin Gaye tries out for the Detroit Lions

It's a story that's well known among Detroiters of a certain age, but has generally been forgotten elsewhere. It was the time that the great Marvin Gaye tried out for the Detroit Lions football team of the NFL.

In the late 60s, Gaye had become close friends with the Lions' offensive and defensive stars, running back Mel Farr and defensive back Lem Barney (a future Hall of Famer). And Gaye, an avid sports fan and good athlete, was a football fanatic. And he pestered Farr and Barney to get him a tryout with the Lions, whose coach, Joe Schmidt (another Hall of Famer), ran a fairly loose training camp. 

July 1970 - Marvin Gaye tries out for the Detroit Lions

It's a story that's well known among Detroiters of a certain age, but has generally been forgotten elsewhere. It was the time that the great Marvin Gaye tried out for the Detroit Lions football team of the NFL.

In the late 60s, Gaye had become close friends with the Lions' offensive and defensive stars, running back Mel Farr and defensive back Lem Barney (a future Hall of Famer). And Gaye, an avid sports fan and good athlete, was a football fanatic. And he pestered Farr and Barney to get him a tryout with the Lions, whose coach, Joe Schmidt (another Hall of Famer), ran a fairly loose training camp. 

After weeks of talking about it, Schmidt finally relented in July of 1970 and gave Gaye a tryout. Gaye made a gym in his garage and bulked up, even as he began running five miles a day. And it became a big deal locally when he announced the upcoming tryout on television (can you imagine what social media would say today?).

While he was a good athlete, it takes a lot more than that to make a pro football team. Gaye didn't make the Detroit Lions, but the tryout scratched an itch for him, and created a story of a lifetime for Barney, Farr, Schmidt and the City of Detroit. And, by the way, Gaye returned the favor to Barney and Farr a year later, as they appeared on his now legendary album, What's Going On (you can hear their back and forth conversations in the background of the seminal title cut). They even both received a gold album for their work.

John Niyo of The Detroit News gives the full account in a great piece, including interviews with Barney and Schmidt. Check it out here.

And now, as they say, you know the rest of the story.

 

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