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First Ladies of Football: Martha Firestone Ford

Her biggest goal however is built on changing the culture and the mindset of the team and the organization. It’s certainly not an easy task but she’s made it very clear that losing and accepting anything less than 100 percent effort will no longer be tolerated.

Ford Field by Michael Barera is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

First Ladies of Football: Martha Firestone Ford


Estimated Reading Time: 3 Minutes

So it seems only logical to keep moving forward with this series in chronological order. So, after profiling Mrs.McCaskey, we move a little east and a few years later to the Detroit Lions, and how a woman born into an already famous family managed to marry into one of the first families of the nation and become the head of one the oldest franchises in the NFL.

Martha Firestone Ford was born in 1925 in Akron, Oh as the granddaughter of Firestone Tire and Rubber co-founder Harvey Samuel Firestone. After attending Vassar she married Henry Ford’s grandson William Clay Ford in 1947, who purchased the Lions in 1963 and was sole owner until his death in 2014.

“Not So” Fun Facts about the Lions

  • Their last championship came in 1957, giving them the longest championship drought alongside the Arizona Cardinals.
  • They are only team in the NFL to have NEVER appeared in a Superbowl since its inception in 1967
  • Their last playoff win was in 1991
  • Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson, who will arguably go down as two of the best players ever at their positions, retired early. (presumably because of lack of organization/leadership in the front office).
  • I could find reasons for this list to go on for a long time. So I’ll just go ahead and stop here. It’s best for all of us. Mostly me.

It was widely assumed that team ownership would pass to his son William Clay Jr after his death, with there even being pressure on the family to sell the team after a decades of, to put it mildly, EPIC FAILURE. But instead, it was his wife who stepped in and has taken a no-nonsense approach to making the Lions a reputable franchise again.

Boss Moves

Her husband died at an old age. He lived a good and full life. She then assumed full control of the team. She didn’t sell even if the fans begged for it. Mrs. Ford didn’t accept the idea that ownership should pass directly from male to male. She pulled up by the bootstraps and took her place at the table. BOSS MOVE. She then elevated all of her daughters to the same level of leadership as her only son. BIG BOSS MOVE. She then cleaned house in the front office and fired GM Martin Mayhew and team president Tom Lewand. DOUBLE BOSS MOVE. She took her son’s place at league meetings, making sure the rest of the league knew exactly who she was and what she was setting out to do. ULTIMATE BOSS MOVE.

Changing The Culture

“You deserve better,” she wrote in a letter to season-ticket holders after she cleaned house.

Her biggest goal, however, is built on changing the culture and mindset of the team and organization. It’s certainly not an easy task, but she’s made it very clear that losing and accepting anything less than 100 percent effort will no longer be tolerated. She is present and hands-on in every sense. She is letting players, fans, and team personnel know that she’s keeping a close eye on what goes on in the everyday operations of the team.

While many fans still wait with anticipation and delusional hope that these won’t continue to be the “same old Lions”, fellow owners have taken notice of Mrs. Ford’s determination to bring the team and the city what they’ve always wanted. A winning season, a trip to the playoffs, and eventually the Lombardi trophy. She’s certainly not messing around.

“All I know is she wants to win — now,” said Ernie Accorsi, the former Baltimore Colts, Cleveland Browns and New York Giants general manager who was hired by the Lions in November to help Ford with her GM search. “She wants this so badly. She really does. She’s tired of losing.”

So are we, Mrs. Ford. So are we.

An actor by degree, sports lover by day, and a bartender by night. As a native of suburban Detroit it took moving to NYC for Katie to fully realize her love of all things Michigan and Detroit sports. Feel free to engage her in her love of the coolest city and prettiest state in the country and why she will always root for Ohio State to lose every sporting event ever. No, really I am dead serious about that last statement.

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