Detroit Lions’ Dan Campbell feels your pain. He and his staff want to use it as fuel

Detroit Free Press

Dan Campbell doesn’t just know what “Same Old Lions” means. He’s lived it.

In fact, the former tight end joined the Detroit Lions in 2006 partly because of it.

Is that crazy?

Not in Campbell’s eyes:

“For me, it was one of the reasons I wanted sign here because man, who doesn’t want to come here and change that, to be part of that team that turns it around?”

To which I say: Wait, what?

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Someone outside this region knew about “Same Old Lions?” And actually wanted to help exorcise the phrase from your collective tongue as a player? And now wants to do it as the head coach?

Campbell told a reporter recently that he and his staff embrace the saying and use it to motivate their days inside the team’s headquarters in Allen Park. He has also talked about the concept with the team, that the fan’s fatalism is well earned.

I’d expect the head coach of the Lions to have at least an inkling of the franchise’s relationship to its community. Campbell understands the phrase even more because he played here.

Yet to say he knew about SOL before he signed with the Lions? Knew it as a tight end in Dallas? Maybe the plight of Lions’ fandom isn’t as under-the-radar as previously thought.

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Oh, NFL fans everywhere know the Lions’ putrid history, at least in a vague sense. Decade after decade of losing will do this.

And while you may think the Lions lose spectacularly — the field goal at the end of the game against the Vikings last fall comes to mind — almost all these yearly, soul-crushing losses happen in two markets: yours, and the opponents.

The rest of the country is oblivious to the specifics of the misery here, except on Thanksgiving, but even then, so many tune out in irritation or turkey-induced ennui.

Which means it’s easy to dismiss the unrequited love this region has for this franchise for those that live in, say, Kansas City or Dallas or Seattle. Fans there may know the Lions stink, but they’re hardly in tune with the SOL vibe.

There isn’t poetry in 3-13-1 or 2-14 or 7-9 or even the occasional 9-7 and oh, isn’t that nice the sad little team from Michigan made a wild card game. Good for them.

The Lions don’t have “The Drive” or “The Fumble” or “Wide Right.” They don’t have devastating losses deep in the playoffs when the NFL world is tuned in. They don’t have poetry, just relentless, inevitable dreariness.

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They do have “Same Old Lions.” It’s just not known to the greater football world.

Maybe Campbell will change this. He’ll have to win, of course. But maybe that winning — if it eventually happens, and yeah, this is a big if — will come as a result of Campbell’s nuanced understanding of what it means to love this franchise.

Here’s what he said when asked about navigating SOL:

“Once you’ve gone through a great suffering if you will, as it pertains to sports and Lions football, then that’s when there’s a great triumph. And to be a part of that, to be able to help it become that, man that’s something special.”

Special in a way we haven’t seen in the NFL in a long, long time, or any team sport, truthfully.

You’d have to go back to the Cubs winning the World Series to come close, or the Red Sox before that, though as joyful as those triumphs were the misery that preceded those titles still doesn’t quite compare to what’s unfolded here the last 60-plus years.

Both of those clubs had fan bases that were seen by the rest of the baseball world. They may not have had empathy, but baseball culture romanticized the losing in those cities, and talked about the Bambino and Billy Goat curses. The Lions, meanwhile, are an afterthought outside the Mitten.

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So, yeah, when Campbell says “man, that’s something special,” he is not exaggerating. It would be so special it’s hard to imagine — literally. Like me running a marathon, or perhaps even a block down the street.

And yet, Campbell insists, this notion of SOL permeates what he is building in Allen Park.

“I think (SOL is) a motivating factor,” he said, “… for all of us coaches and players.”

Acknowledging this is an important step. Embracing it is another. Diffusing it is still another, which remains the biggest challenge of all.

Campbell isn’t simply trying to win. He’s trying to change history. Which is why he isn’t afraid to talk about that history, however painful.

He may not win here in the end. But he understands this franchise and its place in this community in a way few who’ve come before him have.

As he said Thursday: “You guys have lived it.”

He may have been talking to me when he said it, but it was meant for you.

I’m not sure that’s the Same Old Lions.

Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or swindsor@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor. 

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