After his first win as the Detroit Lions coach, Dan Campbell held up a football.
“This game ball goes to the whole Oxford community — all those who were affected,” Campbell said to start his news conference on Sunday after the Lions’ dramatic, last-second 29-27 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
In an emotional moment that left you with a lump in your throat, Campbell solemnly read off the names of the four students who were killed and the seven others who were injured at the school shooting in Oxford.
“I just, I want us to not forget these names,” Campbell said. “Madisyn Baldwin, Hana St. Juliana, Justin Shilling, Tate Myre, Phoebe Arthur, John Asciutto, Riley Franz, Elijah Mueller, Kylie Ossege, Aiden Watson and Molly Darnell, who’s a teacher. They’re in our hearts and our prayers, not to mention all those that were affected by all of this — the classmates, brothers and sisters, the cousins, the teachers, everybody, the coaches.”
Campbell showed the Lions a video about the tragedy at a team meeting on Saturday. Players wore Oxford T-shirts during warmups. And they held a moment of silence before the game, as the names and pictures of the four students who were killed — Myre, Baldwin, St. Juliana and Shilling — were displayed on the video screen.
“You hope to be a light for those people,” Lions quarterback Jared Goff said.
This was a blinding bolt of joy and happiness when Goff threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown to win it as time expired.
It was the end of a perfect game-winning drive.
A 14-play, 75-yard thing of beauty that brought celebration and relief.
Goff was just hoping the game — and the win — would help those in Oxford, “take their minds off it for may be three hours,” he said. “It’s a lot bigger than sports, a lot bigger than us. And I thought today was one of those special circumstances that we were able to rise to the occasion. Make something special happen.”
Yes, it did feel special.
Not just because it was the Lions’ first win this season.
Not just because of how crazy this game was. The Lions built a 20-6 halftime lead, let it slip away and then had to fight back, a show of resilience that should not be glossed over.
No, this felt special because it carried extra weight.
Just like how Michigan football’s win over Iowa in the Big Ten championships felt even more profound considering Tate Myre’s family members were honorary captains. Myre wore No. 42 for the Oxford football team. And yes, it felt even more profound when the Wolverines scored 42 points against the Hawkeyes.
“I’ll try not to get emotional but — you know, sometimes special things happen in special circumstances,” Goff said. “I think you saw yesterday what Michigan did against Iowa and then us today getting our first win in what is it, 12, 13 weeks.”
Even the Vikings wore Oxford T-shirts.
“The players on our team with Michigan connections were able to have an Oxford T-shirt put in their locker as well, which I thought was a great gesture that the Lions let us do that,” said Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, who is from Holland and played at Michigan State. “We wore those in warmups.”
Zach Line, the head football coach at Oxford, played four seasons for the Vikings (2013-16).
“He lost one of his players,” said Cousins, who played a brilliant second half and seemed to put the Vikings in position to win. “It’s difficult to understand, but certainly our prayers are with that entire community. Being from this state, it certainly hits a little closer to home.”
When tragedy strikes, everybody wants to help.
To offer condolences.
To wrap trees with ribbons or cook meals and deliver them to doorsteps.
To do anything.
Because this situation leaves everybody feeling so helpless.
So these football players did the one thing they could do.
They played for something bigger than themselves. They played for Oxford.
And they won.
“I feel for those kids,” linebacker Derrick Barnes said. “I think they gave us a spark for this game just come out of your playing for them playing for the ones who lost their lives playing for the injured, that whole school as a whole football team.”
After the game, Lions tight end Brock Wright came to the postgame news conference wearing a white Oxford T-shirt.
“It’s so special for us to be able to do this,” said Wright, who caught a 23-yard touchdown pass. “To try and try and bring a little bit of joy to the families today. And so being a part of that means a lot to me and means a lot to the rest of the team as well. So just happy we could get a win for them. And you know, our thoughts and prayers go out to the families at this time.”
The entire state is grieving for Oxford. The entire state has been dealing with this. Suddenly, parents have been forced to talk to young children about what this all means. And some kids across the area are scared to go to school.
It’s horrible and heavy.
But this game?
It was fun and exciting.
It was a wonderful distraction, if only for a few hours.
“It’s been a tough, tough week for everyone,” St. Brown said. “But to go out there and get our first win, at home, I think was just a blessing in disguise. I mean, I think it was the best way to end this week I feel like.”
Hopefully, you were watching Oxford.
Hopefully, this game gave you a small moment of joy in the midst of unspeakable tragedy.
We all grieve for you. We are all thinking about you.
Certainly, the joy of winning a football game is nothing compared to the unspeakable grief that these families are enduring.
But the Lions were just trying to help.
The one way they could.
Contact Jeff Seidel: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.