Legend has it that upon learning of his trade to Pittsburgh, Bobby Layne cursed the Detroit Lions by saying they "would not win for 50 years."

Turns out Bobby shortchanged himself.

Fifty years ended Monday. Six days later, the Lions played well enough to win but lost because of a phantom 42-yard pass interference penalty that set the Vikings up for the game-winning field goal in a 12-10 victory.

Somewhere in the heavens above the Teflon top, old Bobby had to be chuckling at an 0-5 start for the team that has one playoff victory since The Curse began.

"You'll get me in trouble talking about 'The Curse,'" Lions receiver Roy Williams said. "You don't want that to happen, do you? There is no curse."

Williams was smiling like a man who thought otherwise. Like a man who got in trouble with management for telling the Detroit News a different story earlier in the week.

"I used to not be a believer in curses, but I'm a firm believer now," Williams told the paper. "Bobby Layne, right? I didn't know about it until I came here, but I'm learning, man. As the years go by, you see things happen with this football team that you just don't see nowhere else."

Amen to that.

The difference in Sunday's game was a safety with 18 seconds left in the first quarter. The stat sheet says Jared Allen sacked Dan Orlovsky for the safety.

That's not entirely true. Allen was chasing him. But Orlovsky, making his first NFL start, accidentally ran out of the back of the end zone.

"I heard the whistle," Orlovsky said. "I was like, 'Did we false start? Was somebody offsides, or something?' Then I looked down and was like, 'You're an idiot.'"

Only in Detroit, right Bobby?

The Lions were the NFL's dominant team of the 1950s. Layne became a legendary figure and a Pro Football Hall of Famer as the Lions won titles in 1952, 1953 and 1957. A slow start in 1958 led to the surprising trade on Oct. 6, 1958, and, well, the rest is painful history for Lions fans.

For most of Sunday's game, the Lions were poised to bury The Curse with a spirited effort defensively (five sacks and three takeaways), a blocked field goal and a novice quarterback who was playing fairly well except for the safety.

In the end, however, bad things started happening to the Lions that have been happening to them since about Oct. 6, 1958. Two stood out in particular.

The first was a fumble by receiver Calvin Johnson with 12 minutes, 29 seconds left. It came at the end of a 32-yard pass to the Vikings 30-yard line. Replays appeared to indicate Johnson was down. The Lions challenged the call and lost. Naturally. They also lost Johnson for the rest of the game because of a head injury. Naturally.

The second whammy came with 2:15 left. Cornerback Leigh Bodden was playing great defense on receiver Aundrae Allison down the right sideline. Bodden made contact but should have been OK because he was playing the ball and looking back. The ball was incomplete, which should have set up a third-and-20.

Nope. Pass interference, according to field judge Mike Weir. According to referee Tony Corrente, "[Bodden] played through the back of the receiver." First-and-10 at the Detroit 26.

Bodden was asked what happened.

"Nothing," he said. "I talked to the official after. He said I ran up his back and didn't look back for the ball. I looked back for the ball. I did everything right.

"We really deserved to win. But it just didn't happen."

Thanks again, Bobby.

Mark Craig • mcraig@startribune.com