People Ripping Dan Campbell Can Eat Grit

People Ripping Dan Campbell Can Eat Grit

I wanted Dan Campbell to kick the field goal and for the Detroit Lions to have a 17-point lead with 22 minutes remaining in the NFC Championship Game. Could have gone either way on the decision to play for the lead and not the tie the last time they possessed the ball with any realistic chance to beat the San Francisco 49ers. Hated essentially conceding defeat by calling a precious timeout and putting all eggs in the always-empty basket of onside kick recovery.

Campbell’s not perfect. He’s not infallible. He’s not above criticism. He preaches and practices a brand of tough love so perhaps he deserves a little bit of that aimed in his direction right now. But do you know what would make me the happiest? If Campbell spent a few days getting absolutely raked across the coals, second-and-third-guessed into oblivion and responded by coming out next year and doing the exact same shit he’s been doing since getting the top job in Detroit.

I don’t want him to learn anything because there’s not anything worth a damn to learn. We can get to the specifics of each decision in a bit, though ultimately that’s boring, small-potatoes stuff compared to the big picture.

Ever since someone picked up a pigskin and they started organizing games, fans have pined for a coach who isn’t afraid. One who chooses aggression. One who takes the fight to the other side. One who is going lose, of course, but will lose while going down swinging. They’ve existed before yet Campbell is a unicorn because he’s found uncharted success with a franchise long ago banished to either Hell or purgatory and because he wears his heart on his sleeve on a way that makes him bigger than a coach.

It’s no surprise at all that the content mill has latched onto perceived mismanagement as a major talking point from yesterday’s action. Just because I don’t think the debate over what could have or should have happened is very interesting doesn’t mean others can’t be locked in on it. I am extremely confident that the dreaded discourse will move onto something newer and shinier in a few days and as Lions fans move on they’ll begin to truly appreciate that they have a leader so many would have crawled through broken glass to have.

Sports are freaking demented is a thought I had while trying to convince a crushed 8-year-old to stop crying for like two hours after the magical ride came to an end last night. At one point I told him — and told myself — that you can’t love winning without being willing to lose. These are the types of things a youth sports volunteer coach finds themselves saying whether they believe it or not. But I did mean it when I also told him that I’d prefer to lose on Campbell’s terms than on anyone else’s. That part is 100 percent true — for myself and most of the reasonable, rationale Lions fans who have experienced four months or pure, unimaginable bliss.

No one was more in on Campbell and this phoenix-rising-from-the-ashes story earlier than The Big Lead. He took an impossible job and lost 20 of his first 24 games. We’ll never know just how close he came to being on the hot seat or worse because all he’s done since then is win 22 of the past 30, including two playoff games in eight days after the club collected one postseason triumph in 66 years. So if you want to say I’m biased and too invested in being correct, perhaps I’m guilty.

Now for the boring part. Campbell was trying to win the game the first time he went for it. He saw a 31-10 lead in grasp. Somehow, no national outlet has pointed out that the Lions have struggled to find a reliable kicker all year. Michael Badgley’s field-goal percentage from 40-49 yards is in the 70s — and that’s with playing half his games in a dome. More importantly, Campbell clearly trusts his offense more than his kicker for good reason. So he chose to dial up a chance that ended in a slighlty off-target throw Josh Reynolds couldn’t reel in. The wheels came off very quickly and made the next fourth-down call a referendum against playing for the tie. Once again, that would have put the season on the foot of a mediocre kicker instead of the franchise quarterback who will be tasked with getting back to this position.

Anyone can play results. I’m hurting this morning so I’m cranky. But it must be said that it’s really depressing to see how sports media just unabashedly turns everything into a damn parking lot, bulldozing until every bit of nuance has been smoothed out. And a person really only notices it when the conversation is around their team. In this case, Lions fans are discovering that for the first time since … since … ever?

So, look, it all amounts to this. Any Lions fan worth caring about loves Campbell. We’re forever indebted to him. He’s achieved the ultimate thing in sports in essentially 18 months: the ability for people to sit at home and ride with him, respecting that this is his team and he’s earned the right to do whatever the hell he sees fit. What’s great about this is that it reflects how the players feel too.

My family and so many other families waited for a day like Sunday forever. There were a few regrets as things got pretty sad late. But no one felt the need to defend Campbell. There was a silent and shared understanding that it’s an honor to die behind his sword. Healthy? Who knows, that’s just the way it is. If anyone has a problem with that, fine. We’re perfectly happy having the type of coach so many have only been able to fantasize about having. The noise will dissipate and all that will remain is the lingering, restored roar.

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