There’s a reason the Detroit Lions were picked for “Hard Knocks.”
His name is Dan Campbell.
The sophomore head coach appeared on an NFL sideline as a rookie in 2021 as perhaps the league’s most colorful character. He’s not Bill Belichick. After Campbell’s kneecap biting screed in 2021, HBO and NFL Films likely went ahead and drafted the Lions for 2022. That is, as long as Campbell survived in 2021.
He survived. The Lions had one of the worst records in the league at 3-13-1. But Campbell’s energetic, player-friendly approach endeared him to Detroit and gave stalwart Lions hope they might finally be able to build something around their passionate coach. This season’s results will go a long way in determining how well that confidence is placed. But in one episode he delivered for “Hard Knocks”.
Dan Campbell’s character shone in the opening episode of Hard Knocks. (Nic Antaya/Getty Images)
‘It doesn’t matter if you have an ass cheek and three toes’
The annual series, which generally shows a poor to mediocre team’s training camp and preseason, focused on Campbell from Tuesday’s opening clip. He opened the season by delivering a speech as only Campbell can, using most of Campbell’s concepts: grit.
As Campbell spoke to his team, he pointed to the word “grit” written in large block letters on the briefing room wall. He then explained what grit means to him.
“To me that means we’re going to play everywhere,” Campbell said. “We will play on grass. We will play on grass. We’re going to a damn landfill.
“It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you have one butt cheek and three toes, I’ll smack your ass.”
Here is the short version:
Campbell’s enthusiasm is contagious – at least through the eyes of the Hard Knocks lenses. Campbell, a 10-year NFL veteran as a tight end, participated in a grueling up-and-down practice drill with the team. For a 46-year-old, he’s kept up remarkably well alongside professional athletes in their prime. Imagine again if Belichick would do the same.
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He clearly won against running back Jamaal Williams, who delivered an impassioned speech about breaking a huddle in pads after a hard workout. The speech was used to promote the show and inspired Williams to make a Campbell-esque vow to “run you over crying” if you question his strength.
The story goes on
This speech from Williams followed one of Campbell’s own, in which he sympathized with his players after camp’s first padded practice session.
“I swear to god I’m not crazy,” Cambpell told his players. “I swear it to you. If I absolutely knew we could get where we need to go without ever putting on pads, I would. I don’t want to put anyone in danger.”
He went on to explain that physical training early in the camp will help alleviate later injuries and better prepare his players for competition.
“I have a plan, I swear to you,” Campbell continued. “I only think of you. That’s all I think about. That’s all I fucking think about are you and how I set you up for the best possible advantage I can give you. I you just have to trust me. That’s all.”
He then gave Williams the stage for his huddle break.
Song and Dance by Aidan Hutchinson
Campbell also set the stage for some mild rookie hazing during the episode. That includes hailed No. 2 overall winner Aidan Hutchinson, Detroit’s presumptive pass-rushing savior from the University of Michigan. Lions rookies must perform a song and dance routine in front of their teammates. They do this while disclosing their signing bonus.
For Hutchinson, his signing bonus is big. His favorite song? Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean.
“My name is Aidan Hutchinson. I’m from Michigan and my signing bonus was $23 million,” Hutchinson said.
He then broke into his routine, to the delight of his teammates:
Fellow rookie sixth-round linebacker Malcolm Rodríguez also had his turn on stage. He timidly touted his much smaller but certainly satisfying $188,000 signing bonus before doing his version of a salsa routine.
The routines – and the entire episode – were an ode to all things Campbell.
The jury is still out on how Campbell’s tactics will translate into field success. But for now, his approach seems to be winning over his players and coaching staff. And that’s a good start. However it ends, the ride promises to be a one-of-a-kind Dan Campbell experience. Just like Tuesday’s credits: