A couple of rookies fought last week at Detroit Lions camp. It was more of a skirmish, truthfully, one head coach Dan Campbell let play out for a moment before stepping into to throttle everything back.
“Nobody backed down from each other and they got better from it, so I was happy,” Campbell said the next day.
There’s a sweet spot there between aggression, perhaps some shoving, even a minor dustup and all-out chaos. The best football teams thrive in that space. Campbell seems born to navigate it.
Whether his approach — and persona — lead to wins the next 2-3 seasons is hard to say. But it’s also hard to blame anyone for riding the waves of his charming and fiery vibes.
How can’t you love the details of his daily coffee intake?
Two ventis and a double-shot of espresso? Why not?
And how can’t you love the way he expresses himself, beyond the now-famous “biting kneecap” line? Last week, he dropped the word “truck,” as getting trucked. He called rookie receiver, Amon-Ra St. Brown, the “sun god,” then waited a moment for his audience to laugh. He peppered sentences with “oh my God, man” and “back in the day” and “I love that,” a phrase he uses generously and often, to describe his players, his staff, the Lions, the city.
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Which he treats like his city, because it is, for now, and, at the moment, that’s all that matters. Campbell senses the change and opportunity you sense, not just with the Lions, but across the professional sporting landscape in general.
Baddoo and Hill stayed on the field after practice to catch a few passes from a throwing machine, laughing and smiling, before heading off to a game that night against the Boston Red Sox, a team they beat twice in three games.
It’s been like that often the last month or two, as the Tigers continue to reawaken this baseball town; just as the Pistons are doing, building on a promising group of rookies from last season, getting ready for summer league in Las Vegas, where No. 1 pick, Cade Cunningham, is set to make his debut.
After so many years in the desert, after so much losing and despair, all four franchises — the Lions, Tigers, Pistons and Wings — appear worthy of attention and, dare I say, love once again. It’s hard to predict who will get to a parade first. For each, a parade still feels a long way off.
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But the competitive spirit is finally percolating, and it’s been easy to spot at Lions camp lately. Not just in the dustup between a couple of rookies looking to prove their bona fides and not just in the daily barrage of words and phrases favored by Campbell, but in the cross-pollination of the teams.
If it’s not quite a Detroit renaissance yet, it surely feels like a moment. Campbell wanted to be here. So, too, did Weaver and Casey and, most overtly, Cunningham, who grew up in Texas with the Old English D tucked inside his soul.
AJ Hinch may not have spent his youth idolizing the Tigers the way former manager Jim Leyland did, but the current Tigers’ manager brought a sense of detail and inner swag that feels built for this franchise. He understands this place and the psyche of this underrated baseball town.
And then there’s Steve Yzerman, who knows us as well as any outsider ever could. The Wings’ general manager has been an insider here for well more than half his life now, which means he knows that some of the savviest hockey fans in the world reside in and around the 313.
They understand how difficult it is to rebuild an NHL team. They understand they need patience.
His imprint on the franchise in his newest role is unmistakable, most notably his desire and eye for finding a certain kind of relentless talent. This may not be unique to Detroit, but it’s a trait that’s suited to Detroit.
It’s not a coincidence that all four teams are led by purveyors of this mantra. From Weaver reaching back to the “Bad Boys” culture to Casey insisting that newcomers care enough to make their beds. From Hinch installing an aggressive and speedy approach on the base paths to Yzerman shipping off talent that wasn’t consistently aggressive enough.
From Campbell to Brad Holmes — the Lions general manager — to, frankly, Sheila Ford Hamp, who sought a fingers-in-the-dirt charisma to lead this long-tortured franchise. The Lions may not win much more this fall than they have the last few years.
They may be searching for a quarterback and playmakers from the top of the draft next spring as we’re all wondering how Campbell and Holmes will shake off a disastrous first year. Then again, the team might show just enough fire and spirit to validate all the goodwill bouncing around the region in this late summer of love.
Last week’s scuffle could be proof of that.
As Campbell said: “… to me you end up having a problem when you start having all-out brawls all practice long. And it’s like, ‘Oh my God, here we go.’ We have a 10-minute period and we have eight minutes of it is fighting amongst the team where it’s kind of counterproductive.”
But if stopped after a few seconds of all-out fury?
“Those little things … man, I just think they make you practice better. They make you practice harder.”
We’ll see where it all leads.
No one is expecting a title run overnight. It’s fair, though, to expect some measure of results to follow the burgeoning buy-in. It’s hot out there. It’s been heating up for a while.
Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.