But first… seats – they need more seats. Because this hype train is filling up fast.
So two Detroit Lions media officers rushed off and carried extra chairs into the workroom.
“Packed house,” Lions coach Dan Campbell exclaimed with surprise in his voice as he looked at a packed room of reporters before his first news conference of training camp Sunday morning.
Nine video cameras were set up against the back row, and the room was filled with reporters from around the state, a strong reflection of the far-reaching interest and obsession with this team.
The excitement and expectations surrounding this team are off the charts, and this fan base is yearning for something special for an organization that hasn’t been in the playoffs since 2016.
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“What’s going to worry you is the hype train,” Campbell said. “This thing just took off and it’s out of control right now.”
Leave it to Campbell to be the voice or the reason. To put things into perspective for this organization.
The “hype train” quote will get all the attention, but what he said next without pausing was far more important.
“That’s fine, as long as we stay focused on the job and the work at hand,” he said, gesturing with his right hand.
Campbell put his right hand on top of the podium and moved his head for emphasis.
“I just keep coming back to it. We have to put in the work and earn it.”
That mindset has filtered down to his players. Even with the heightened anticipation and hype, there is no sense of entitlement with this team. Campbell would never allow it.
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“I think it’s funny to me that you go 9-8, you don’t make the playoffs, and now all of a sudden you’re a favorite,” quarterback Jared Goff said. “Obviously, we’ve got good players, we’ve got good coaches, we’ve got a good team, but we haven’t done anything and we’ve got a lot of work to do. Minnesota won 13 games last year, Green Bay has won the division a handful of times the last handful of years, so we’ve got some work to do to put a stamp on who we want to be and we’re not close to that yet, but we’re on our way.”
The unwavering focus on hard work and obsessive determination to improve, never forgetting where this team came from, making it the foundation of everything, are even more reasons to believe in this team.
Hype trains are leaving a station near you
The Lions have become the national darlings.
“It’s kind of hard not to see that,” Aidan Hutchinson said. “We’ve got the TVs on in there, it just pops up so you can see it … it can get in your head a little bit, but I think we’re doing a good job of keeping our mentality and keeping what we’ve done, especially even last year just building off of that. So I think we’re doing a good job with our mentality and we’re keeping that underdog mentality.”
ESPN Analytics offers a strong dose of encouragement for this long-suffering franchise, proclaiming that the Lions have a 43% chance to win the NFC North (best in division), a 65% chance to make the playoffs this season and a 10% chance to make the Super Bowl.
Anything short of the playoffs would be a disappointment. Anything short of a home playoff game would be a serious setback.
What could go wrong? Ha! Have you been paying attention to sports in the Motor City these many years?
Injuries. Weird games. Surprising disturbances. A string of bad luck. Weird calls from the refs – ah, let’s not go there, okay?
Yes, anything can go wrong. We’ve seen it time and time again.
Not even to use their real names — for fear of bringing it into the universe — but if this team loses someone with a name that sounds like Lared Yoff or even Lamon-Ba St. Trown – is this season’s toast.
But today, let’s not focus on that.
As training camp gets underway, instead of worry and fear, I found plenty of reasons to get that hype train going on Sunday morning. Campbell’s inspirational up-downs are a great example of how he has a feel for getting this team focused.
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Real reason for hope
When you get beyond the hype and the blaring comments from the national talking heads, when you dig into the DNA and structure of this team, when you study the increased talent level, you find the source of all the excitement.
All these young players should be better: “The game slowed down,” said Aidan Hutchinson. “Everything just feels a lot easier now.”
The defense should be better, with a completely revamped defensive secondary: “They definitely got a little bit stickier,” Amon-Ra St. said. Brown.
Or as Goff said about the defense: “They’re really deep. They have many good players. They have many good ball hawks.”
But the Lions’ explosive offense should also be more explosive, and that was evident Sunday morning at . 8:35 during the first installation session.
It was like offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said: See all our toys here!
Goff hit Jameson Williams on a short route. The wide receiver may be suspended for the first six games, but he’s in full swing right now. It seems smart. This is the time to prepare him so that he can come to earth, literally, when he comes back.
David Montgomery, a freshman running back, caught a pass; and a moment later Jahmyr Gibbs, the rookie Lightning, had it. Bang, bang. One after another; and I thought, Man, this offense is going to be special.
Then Goff hit Sam LaPorta, the freshman tight end; and it is clear that he will be one of the most important cogs.
Then Goff went to St. Brown – their chemistry is obvious. It almost looked too easy.
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It was only 5 minutes into the first practice and even though they didn’t have pads on, even though they didn’t hit, I was sitting there thinking, Dang, this offense has some special weapons.
If you want to know why there is so much hype surrounding this team, it starts right there.
Credit for this turnaround begins with owner Sheila Hamp. She created this unusual arranged marriage between Lions general manager Brad Holmes and head coach Campbell. All they have done is improve the roster, add talent and then add some more.
Holmes and Campbell seem perfectly aligned, from the vision to the message.
“I told the team, talent with character and chemistry can overcome adversity, and I believe that’s what Brad and I have built here,” Campbell said. “We don’t just have talent, we have talent that has character, and now we just have to build chemistry. If we do that, we can overcome anything.”
Last year, when this team won eight of its last 10 games, we saw the core of this team. We saw what is possible. And that belief has only grown stronger.
This team is built to win now.
Expectations have risen and so have standards.
And the hype and hope seem justified for once.