It’s hard to not be romantic about the Detroit Lions. The loveable losers of the league have dealt with embarrassment and pain like no team in the NFL. I’d go even farther and speculate that no other team in professional sports has had a harder road than the Lions.
Along with that embarrassment and pain has come years of ridicule. There’s the “same old Lions” sentiment that’s flown around for decades, but that’s been said so many times that there’s a callus built around it. That doesn’t hurt as much as when you tune into the NFL pre-shows and watch analysts laugh at the idea that the team could win that particular day. No analysis, no explanations given. It’s just because they’re the Lions, and that’s what the Lions do. The perennial joke that you can set your watch to. You could find the lonely analyst that would have hope for the Lions here and there, but that person would usually give up later and you couldn’t blame them for it.
Something has changed over the past year or so. The infamous Dan Campbell intro presser went from being a joke to being cheered. Media personalities like Pat McAfee started rooting for Dan Campbell and then, as the Lions started to really compete with a subpar roster, so many more followed. Now it seems as though every time you turn on the sports channels or read the sports trades, people are saying glowing things about the Lions. It’s hard to not look around and see that the world is truly falling head over heels for this football team.
How could they not? There are so many reasons to love this team. It starts with the coach. Campbell has shown the world that he’s more than just the biting knee caps guy. In his first year with the Lions, the team only won three games, but he had them fighting every week. Campbell also showed that he’s just a good guy by showing his compassion and wearing his heart on his sleeve. He cried during a post=game presser following a hard loss. The layup to just make fun of him was there, but, instead, the moment was met with mostly respect.
Campbell’s attitude is contagious. He’s part pro wrestler, part teddy bear, part father figure, and yes, there’s a little meathead in there, too. It’s just so infectious. You almost want the guy to call you up and tell you he’s proud of you. You can clearly see how a locker room could want to play for this guy.
Halfway through the 2021 season, the narrative went from “same old Lions” to “this team just doesn’t stop fighting.” The Lions became fun. I can tell you myself that during the Matt Patricia years, I was on full autopilot during the end of the season. These were teams with (barely) more wins than the 2021 Lions. At the end of this past season I found myself not wanting the year to end because this team was actually fun. I know I wasn’t the only one who felt that way.
Bad teams are hard to watch. Bad teams that get better in front of your eyes each week are a lot of fun—especially bad teams that get better despite facing the overwhelming adversity of injuries and illnesses.
The Lions are also a team that’s drafting really well and everyone is noticing it. The Lions 2021 draft class looked good last May and it looks even better this May. Penei Sewell and Amon-Ra St. Brown looked like stars in their rookie years and the rest of the class showed flashes of high potential at times.
I can’t tell you how the 2022 class will fare, but on paper, it looks like the Lions walked out of the draft with the the two best players on both sides of the ball. They received high grades and rave reviews for all their picks. A lot of national analysts are talking about how much they love what the Lions have done this offseason.
Then there’s the city. Detroit vs. Everybody doesn’t really apply this year. Sure the Lions didn’t get any primetime games, but they do annually have one of the most-watched games in all of sports in their Thanksgiving game. Detroit also won the honor of hosting the 2024 NFL Draft this year, and they will be the subjects of popular documentary series Hard Knocks on HBO. After five weeks of watching behind-the-scenes Dan Campbell, you know this bandwagon is going to grow.
The Lions have a ways to go before they’re a championship team and people around the world start wearing their gear. They probably will never reach the levels of the Cowboys or Packers in that regard. But there’s no doubting that things are turning around for this team and people are here for it.