Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell looked like a volcano ready to explode.
Six days before the biggest game of his tenure in Detroit, lava was burning behind his eyes.
Anticipation and excitement, raw energy and adrenaline were twitching through his arms, and his voice rumbled while talking about the Lions game Sunday against the Green Bay Packers.
“This is a playoff game,” Campbell blurted on Monday at his weekly news conference.
It has been flexed to Sunday night, making it the marquee game of the weekend. On national TV. The final game of the regular season for the entire NFL. Which says exactly how far this organization has climbed this season.
Not to mention how much excitement and drama burn inside this game.
The player in Campbell started bubbling to the surface. He looked like he wanted to strap on the pads, snap on his chin strap and go run into a freakin’ wall.
Because this is huge. This is monumental. This is fun as heck.
If the Lions beat the Packers and the Rams beat Seattle, then Detroit will be in the playoffs. So that begs a natural question: How will the Lions approach this monstrous week?
“We tell them the magnitude,” Campbell said. “This is big. That’s what we do. This is big, and it’s going to be fun, and let’s go. I mean, the intensity is up, now.”
Some coaches approach big games with all the joy and excitement of a rotting carcass, and they say things like: “We play one game at a time.”
“We never look ahead.”
“And it’s just another game.”
It’s enough to make you scream: “Shut the heck up! Would you please act like a human, just once!”
‘This is where you want to be’
But that’s not Campbell’s style.
He’s raw and honest and always teaching.
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“I think it’s important to get used to being here because that’s what you — this is where you want to be,” Campbell said. “You want to be in the thick of it, and you always want to have a chance to get in or have gotten in.”
There are just so many layers to this.
First of all, Campbell is honest to a fault. What you see is what you get. And if he tried to be anything other than himself, it wouldn’t work. So that’s part of it. He will show his emotion and excitement because he’s an emotional dude.
But there is something else.
Campbell sets the tone for the entire organization, teaching through his words and approach.
The players eventually parrot what he says and his message is clear: Embrace this moment. Relish it. Enjoy it. Feed off it. Don’t try to diminish it. Don’t be afraid of it. Don’t shrink from it. Use that energy to lift your game.
“This is one of those games you just — you look forward to being a part of as a player, as a coach,” Campbell said. “The fans are going to love this. I just think it’s great. And you just — I don’t know if you could write it any better. It’s going to be great.”
Campbell is like an explorer, holding the light, leading an entire franchise out of the darkness. Always teaching. Always setting the tone.
He taught this team how to stay the course, even during despair, as it struggled into a 1-6 hole.
He taught his team resilience, as it started to win.
He taught it to bounce back after a crushing defeat — one week after losing at Carolina, the Lions crushed the Bears.
He taught it how to handle success — and it has won seven of nine.
And this is just the next lesson in the natural progression of things. How do you handle preparation for a playoff game?
Well, Campbell has already begun to show them: You grind through it. You work harder than you have ever worked. You study film harder. You focus like you have never focused. Veteran players say the playoffs are another level, and each player must start to climb. That doesn’t happen on game day. That’s all week long. And it starts with the coaches.
“It’s — it really, really gives you a lot of motivation. And this is the one — and look, every week you’re trying to give your guys the best plan you could possibly give them. That goes without saying, but this one you just — you want to make sure you don’t leave any stone unturned. You’re looking for every little nugget that’s out there potentially. Any way that you can find some type of advantage and make sure that you give your guys the very best opportunity to have success and maximize your roster versus their roster. So, it just — listen, I think it gives everybody a little bit of extra energy and juice if you will.”
A strange scenario
There is one final element to this situation.
Because this Packers game will kick off Sunday night, the Lions will know the outcome of the Seattle-Rams game, which starts at 4:25.
So they will know if they have a chance for the playoffs — if the Seahawks lose — or just be a spoiler.
But Campbell hasn’t shirked away from that, either.
“Either we’re playing to get in or we’re playing to be spoiler, and that’s it,” he said. “So either way, we win.”
It’s fascinating to watch Campbell work.
Not to mention entertaining.
But this week is simply monumental for this team’s growth. It’s the last piece of the puzzle for this organization. Learning how to prepare for the playoffs. And Campbell has already offered a sneak peak to his approach:
Lift up the energy and bring the extra juice and embrace the moment.
Through every stage, Campbell keeps teaching his players.
In his own unique way.
A volcano glowing bright, lighting the way.
This week is gonna be fun as heck.
Contact Jeff Seidel: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff.
To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.