Coach Dan Campbell and the Lions have been one of the NFL teams that most experts believe could make a lot of noise in 2023, and they should, especially following a week 1, upset win over the Super Bowl Champions. With Travis Kelce sidelined and the Detroit ‘D’ keeping Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes contained, the team kicked off the season with a 21-20 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.
While 1-0 isn’t exactly a dominating win streak, it’s more about what it symbolizes to the Silver and Blue fan base. A new era is taking place up in Michigan, and Campbell and his team showed it on Thursday night. After years of being a poor, sick cousin in the National Football League, the Lions have regained their bite. Followers of the franchise have seen Hall of Famers like Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson toil in obscurity, while the Ford family has never been able to pull a winner off the assembly line.
But now, the industrious Dan Campbell has fired up the city like a dusty, old sports car just waiting for a Sunday drive. With the pedal firmly on the medal, Lions faithful are only expecting one thing at this year’s finish line: the teams’ first trip to the postseason since 2016. Then, the wheels really fell off, as they purchased a lemon in the guise of their previous coach, Matt Patricia.
That’s when Campbell rolled into town with a whole, new re-design. It was a change of pace that the city accepted, and even embraced. With his square jaw and iron will, he looked the part of the no-nonsense hard ass that they needed in the muddling, Midwest metropolis. At the same time, he was just weird enough to bring a special kind of Motor City Madness to the gridiron.
Both funny and firebrand all at the same time, Dan Campbell represents the perfect marriage between old-school tough, and a new-school approach. No one should be the next Bear Bryant or Bobby Knight when it comes to discipline in 2023. But Campbell leads by being a former hardnosed player who gained respect on the field – and THEN the sideline. He’s taken a realistic approach with his team, and they have responded with maturity (for the most part).
His athletes have no choice but to respect him; he might still be tougher than they are. The former tight end was known for being tough-as-nails during his career. But at the same time, he has an ironic will to be weird. He even suggested during the preseason that he would like to have an actual lion on the sideline with his players as a mascot.
In all seriousness, Dan Campbell is poised to be the next great head coach in the NFL, cut from the same mold as a legend like Bill Cowher – a former player and a tough guy with a heart of gold. Along with a shared loyalty among his troops.
For a franchise that has been sorely lacking in luster and has squandered star power in the past, Campbell’s enthusiasm for the game and his will to win is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise polluted city. A tortured town with a lot of metallic memories, Detroit hasn’t had a sideline Sargent quite like this before.
Because he is being heralded as the next big thing in terms of NFL coaches, Dan Campbell draws a lot of praise. Not just for him, but by extension, for his team and the franchise, as well. That means a lot, especially in terms of re-establishing the identity of the team. It also helps reinvigorate the legion of loyal Lions fans who have to listen to everybody else laugh at them.
When you’ve been beaten down for so long, it’s nice to have a big guy who shows up to have your back. And for the Detroit die-harders, Coach Campbell is that vigilante in victory.
He gives the little guys in The League hope that they can shake their fists at the strongholds of the NFL like Dallas, Philly, and Green Bay.
Despite their win over the Chiefs, Dan Campbell knows that his squad still needs a lot of work. But he continues to assemble the parts of what he hopes turns out to be a championship chassis.
Meanwhile, Lions fans believe they’ve found the guy who will provide the fuel for a Super Bowl winner in the Motor City.
Ryan Boman is the author of the 2023 book, Pop Music & Peanut Butter: A Collection of Essays about Embracing Life with Laughter & Love. Follow him on social media @RyanKBoman