DETROIT -- Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell made headlines during his introductory news conference last year when he talked about biting kneecaps off and taking chunks out of opponents, and now it’s time for an encore -- of sorts -- for the colorful coach.
The Lions will be featured on HBO’s "Hard Knocks," with the first episode debuting Tuesday.
Expect plenty of Campbell, from his high-caffeine coffee runs to his motivational tactics, as he tries to change the “Same Old Lions” narrative. Even two of the greatest players in Lions history -- Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson -- said they’ll be watching.
Since Detroit doesn’t have a night game scheduled after a 3-13-1 season, this could be the Lions’ only prime-time appearance. Here is what the national audience could anticipate seeing.
Why were the Lions chosen for Hard Knocks?
The Lions were among the final teams considered, along with the New York Jets. According to show producers, Detroit’s fan base was clamoring for the platform to show their team off, since they haven’t received much attention in recent years, and the team was aware of this.
The Lions will not play a nationally televised game this season outside of their annual Thanksgiving Day matchup, so this "Hard Knocks" appearance is an opportunity for the organization to reach a larger viewership.
“Detroit is one of those towns that has football in its blood, and it’s such a huge sports town, and they’re really waiting and crying for this success that they hope is coming,” said Ken Rodgers, lead creative producer of "Hard Knocks." “You can see it on the streets. You can hear it in the music; I know that’s an Eminem song, too.
“It’s an attitude that shows up when you start filming, and people love that,” he said. “As great as the Cowboys were last season, the Cowboys are a familiar brand that you know you want to watch because you know it’s going to be entertaining. This is a team that you’ve never gotten a chance to know, and you’re going to get to know for the first time and that’s really exciting for us.”
Who will be the breakout star(s) of the show?
There are a number of interesting personalities on the roster -- most notably anime-loving running back Jamaal Williams, second-year wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, cornerback Jerry Jacobs, and members of the offensive line. But viewers will also be introduced to general manager Brad Holmes, who is one of seven Black general managers in the NFL. Although Holmes’ journey from becoming a public relations intern for the Los Angeles Rams to his current role has been well-documented, viewers will see how he operates to construct this roster on a day-to-day basis.
The coaching staff will be featured in the series as well. Filled with former players who bring 80-plus years of combined playing experience, they bring a unique perspective and relatability that should shine through the screen.
“More than ever before, the assistant coaches are probably going to play a bigger role this year than what we’ve seen in previous years with just the pedigree that we have in former players and stuff,” said Shannon Furman, producer and director of "Hard Knocks." “That’s something that we’re definitely really focused on.”
Any funny camp stories?
Aidan Hutchinson, the No. 2 overall pick, wowed the veterans with his rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” while performing in front of the team as part of his rookie duties. Although no footage has been leaked, it’s hard to imagine this won’t be included in the show.
“OK, two nights ago he had the song. He let us. It was the first one. We got him up there and [say] his name and school, signing bonus and -- I will say this, it was outstanding,” Campbell said of the performance. “He took a big step in respect of his teammates because it was a hell of a performance, just saying.”
Offensive tackle Penei Sewell called Hutchinson’s performance “money.”
“He scratched up a little bit at the beginning. I get it... jitters,” Sewell said. “But he killed it. That man killed it.”
It’s one of the funnier stories from camp.
“I was rehearsing the verses in my head for a couple days, and my name was called, and I had to step up,” Hutchinson said, laughing.
Lions No. 2 pick Aidan Hutchinson recounts performing his rendition of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" as part of his rookie duties: "I was rehearsing the verses in my head for a couple days and my name was called. I had to step up." pic.twitter.com/jzMqq4tZQZ— Eric Woodyard (@E_Woodyard) August 2, 2022
What's Campbell really like?
Campbell’s epic kneecap speech during his introductory news conference as Lions coach will likely follow him for the remainder of his career. But as entertaining as his interactions have become with the media -- which have included him showing up in an “Anti-Fragile” T-shirt, teasing a local reporter for their alarm clocks going off during a media session, and participating in up-downs with players -- fans might be surprised by his football knowledge. Campbell lives, breathes, eats and drinks football.
“I think what people are going to be shocked by is he’s twice as smart as anyone gives him credit for because of the way he looks, which is bad ass personified,” Rodgers said.
Campbell is no stranger to the "Hard Knocks" experience, either. He appeared on the show as the assistant coach of the Miami Dolphins in 2012. Just don’t expect him to be distracted by the extra attention.
“Yeah, I’m not -- honestly, I’m not even worried about it,” he said Monday. “I’m not worried about 'Hard Knocks,' I’m not worried about winning 'Hard Knocks.' I’m just worried about trying to get this team better and see if we can win some games here, which is the whole point of this.”
Lions legends will be watching
Lions greats Sanders and Johnson remain the most recognizable faces in franchise history, and both said they’ll be watching. Sanders told ESPN he is feeling "excitement” and “anticipation” around this year’s team. He calls it “one of the more anticipated seasons in recent history.”
Johnson also sees the value a show like "Hard Knocks" can bring to the city.
“I remember we would kick it back and forth in the locker room whenever it would be on. Some guys thought it would be a distraction and some guys would say that’s what Detroit needs,” Johnson said. “But it would have been cool. I don’t remember exactly what I was saying at the time, whether it was a distraction or not, but in hindsight, it would’ve been a great opportunity.”