For all the bewildering figurative language that tumbles forth ceaselessly from Dan Campbell—a wide receiver is a “freaking serpent” and “spider of death,” and the whole team is treading water in a landfill—there is something also to be said about the equally disorienting literal facts of the man’s life. He is never anything but cartoonish in form and content, but somehow only becomes more upsetting with every new detail of how he conducts himself each day. Today, The Athletic ran a profile of Campbell that was mostly warmed-over stuff about how he prizes grit, but did have some fun quotes and classic Campbell color. Its aim was to introduce a more “cultivated, confident, and composed” Dan Campbell than the one who promised to bite off kneecaps when he took the Lions head coaching job a season ago, although it’s hard to square “cultivated” with a person who has any of the habits described in the profile, least of all this one:
He gets his sugar later at night when he crushes two or three pints of Talenti Gelato—salted caramel truffle is his favorite—while watching game tape or Netflix. He shares with Thelma and Louise, the Campbells’ Teacup Yorkies, and Bird, their Catahoula leopard dog, so he isn’t consuming all 960 calories himself.
This is all rather jarringly easy to imagine. There are Campbell and his three dogs just going to town on three pints of gelato, as the Lions secondary gets lit up on screen. What does the inside of his freezer look like? Two or three pints per night? Surely this is unhealthy for everyone, canine and human, involved? Am I wrong to worry that this plus Campbell’s coffee habit—”a Venti Starbucks coffee with two shots of espresso, followed by another, for a total of 820 milligrams of caffeine (one cup of coffee has 95 mg)”—seems much likelier to bring about his death than a Lions victory? It will not be death by brain freeze, at least; know that Campbell’s body always “keeps revving, which is why he sets the thermostat in the blue-lips range.”
The profile is of course pegged to this season of Hard Knocks, which tries hard to paint Campbell as America’s coach and the Lions as America’s team. The show’s airing has made me feel that I live in a very small town; it is all anyone here wants to talk about. People in my life I didn’t believe ever watched football or paid attention to sports at all have texted me about the Lions. The local sports radio station does a weekly recap segment. The callers and texters spend all week close-reading scenes for telling body language and foreshadowing. As I type this, I am listening to some hosts lay out the rules for a drinking game for listeners to play while watching tonight’s episode. (Two sips for an appearance from Aidan Hutchinson’s family. Finish your drink if they actually show mysterious offensive coordinator Ben Johnson.) The PR machine is working as designed—everyone cares, everyone believes. I do not need to tell you that this is not how things generally go with the Lions.
But Campbell lets slip his diabolical plan later in the profile: “If you’re an opponent, the dumber you think I am, the better off we are,” he says. It’s all been a work. Did you really fall for that gelato stuff? The kneecaps? The landfill? 17-0. This is our year.