Lions head coach Dan Campbell kicked off the first episode of HBO’s Hard Knocks by delivering a speech to his players that was as stirring as it was confusing. He started off fairly normal, addressing the team rules (Don’t be late, don’t be overweight, don’t disrespect your teammates or the game) and reminding players who are fighting for a roster spot to stay in their lane and not worry about what everyone else is doing. But then he abruptly went kneecaps mode and got the attention of every player in the room.
Where are we? What makes us what we are? And what we are going to be? It’s that right there [pointing to a wall in the room that has “GRIT” painted on it]. It’s GRIT. It’s what we started with last year, guys. It’s our core foundation, man, grit. What does it mean? In a nutshell, I think it means this: We’ll go a little bit longer, we’ll push a little harder, and we’ll think a little deeper and a little sharper. It means we’re unbreakable. To me, it means, we’ll play you anywhere. We’ll play on grass, we’ll play on turf, we’ll go to a fucking landfill.
Football in a landfill! The NFLPA did agree to 17 games in the last CBA, but I’m pretty sure there wasn’t a landfill clause.
It doesn’t matter! It doesn’t matter if you have one ass cheek and three toes, I will beat your ass!
OK, this is an absolutely perfect line. No notes. I have never met a person that fits this description, but when I do, I will know what to do.
It means that normally I am 100 percent, 85 percent, man, that’s all I need to beat you! I don’t care! I will produce and win at 85 percent! You already know, you aren’t going to be 100 percent until next March. This is the best you guys are going to feel right now! The quicker you accept that, man, the better off we are all going to be.
I would argue that reminding the players of how physically damaged they are going to be for the next six months is not the most inspiring message to deliver on the very first day of training camp, but thankfully Campbell was ready to pivot right back to the fun stuff.
Now, there are a number of teams, as it equates to, just bear with me, the ocean right?
The ocean? Just when I was getting comfortable among the trash. But yes, OK, I am ready to bear with you, Dan. I am sure that whatever you say next will involve a cleanly crafted metaphor that crystallizes everything about what it means to compete in the NFL.
There are a number of teams, they just barely get to the water. You got to get in the water to compete. There’s a number of teams, that’s all they get to.
So that means the Jaguars are on the beach enjoying a Michelada? Got it. I’m with you.
Then there’s a number of teams, they are in the shallows. They come in a hurry, man, and they are all over your ass. They are all over your ass and they strike and move, they strike and move. They are dangerous, man! You just gotta get a hold of them, though. If you can just get a hold of them and you start dragging their ass out into the deep, dark abyss, you can drown them.
Great imagery. I can easily visualize the trashing and the struggle beneath the water between the Lions, in their sea form, probably as sea lions, and the eels, which are also football teams, hiding in the shadows of the shallows.
And that’s what we gotta be, that’s who we have to be. That’s our domain. Because we will tread water as long as it takes to fucking bury you!
In a preview for this episode, the NFL cut this line to come right after the landfill line, and it made no sense. Now, in proper context, Campbell is vindicated. With the oceanic abyss as the terrifying scene for this underwater football battle, I understand it. I’m not exactly sure where the shovel is coming from in the abyss, or how wise it is to try and bury someone with dirt while clutched in mortal combat with them in the middle of the ocean, but overall this is working for me. In lifeguarding class, we had to tread water for five minutes, and that was NOT fun, so I understand that Campbell is implying that the Lions will need to win ugly this year.
We will go as long as it takes because we can and we choose to. That’s who we are. That’s who we have to be. Now it goes without saying, the teams that are dangerous in the shallows and the abyss, are probably the top four or five in this league. That’s who they are, and that’s what we are working to!
Oh wow, so there are multiple teams already in the abyss, in addition to the ones that we are trying to drag out there? The abyss is sounding pretty dangerous, all of a sudden. Maybe we should stick to the shallows?
Last thing I am going to say, I am keeping this brief: There is no light at the end of the tunnel. There is no light. There is a song Metallica has, “No Leaf Clover,” and it says, man, when it comes to the soothing light at the end of your tunnel, it’s just a freight train coming your way. If you see a fucking light, it’s a freight train.
Personally, I might have ended on a more positive note, but this is Lions football after all. These are the correct lyrics.
Put your head down and fucking work! It’s about to be fun, man, it’s about to be fun.
If you say so!