One year later, Dan Campbell is still Oxford Strong.
Campbell, the second-year Detroit Lions coach, wore an Oxford hat to his weekly news conference Wednesday, a gesture he said he made to let the community know “we’re thinking about them” on the one-year anniversary of the deadly school shooting at Oxford High.
“If you’re outside of that community, who was directly impacted, you go about your lives and you forget about it,” Campbell said. “You got other things going on, this and that. I think just for this moment I want them to know we’re thinking about them. And there was just a little bit of thought that went into the fact that, ‘Hey, this happened a year ago and we feel your pain.’ And just because time has passed doesn’t mean those scars are still there. I think that more than anything, we just want you to know, ‘Hey, we see you. We still see you,’ and I think that’s a big thing.”
Hana St. Juliana, 14; Tate Myre, 16; Justin Shilling, 17; and Madisyn Baldwin, 17 were killed last Nov. 30 in a shooting that left six other students and one teacher injured.
The Lions beat the Minnesota Vikings five days later for their first win of the season — and Campbell’s first victory as head coach — and Campbell dedicated a game ball to the Oxford community after the game.
“I go back to that time last year and it was really, there was more to it than just we’re going out to win a game,” Campbell said. “It was about, at the very least you wanted to just take their mind off of some of their pain for a three-hour period and give them something that they could be proud of, something that took their mind off of it, even for a little bit and know that, hey, we were playing for them. And so I was glad that we were able to give that to them, then give them the ball.”
The Lions took the field for early warmups against the Vikings in white Oxford Wildcats T-shirts and baseball caps, they wore “O” decals in Oxford gold on their helmets and held a moment of silence for the victims before kickoff.
After the game, when Amon-Ra St. Brown caught the winning touchdown pass from Jared Goff as time expired, Campbell and players said the tragedy was inspiration for their performance.
In April, former Lions executive Bill Keenist delivered the game ball to Oxford athletic director Tony DeMare. In the months since, the ball has been on display at the high school and shared with organizations throughout the community.
Asked Wednesday about his relationship with Oxford football coach Zach Line, a former NFL fullback who played under Campbell with the New Orleans Saints, Campbell called Line “a great frend” and said the tragedy never will be forgotten.
“He was a guy that was a teammate that he endeared himself to his teammates,” Campbell said. “Guys loved playing with him, but I just know that what our players did and were able to do, and just the awareness that was put forth and the caring, I know it meant a lot to him and to those guys and to everybody over there. But there again, it’s about them, not us.”
Contact Dave Birkett at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.