Stakes even higher for Detroit Lions after fans grew closer to team through ‘Hard Knocks’

Final episode offers intimate look at final moments of training camp

Head coach Dan Campbell of Detroit Lions is seen during the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on August 20, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Michael Hickey, 2022 Getty Images)

DETROIT – The stakes are raised for the Detroit Lions this season after “Hard Knocks” offered a glimpse of the most intimate training camp moments and allowed fans to grow even closer to the team.

The final episode dropped Tuesday night, and it was equal parts difficult to watch and impossible to look away from.

Here’s the thing about Lions fans: They’re intensely loyal. Even though the organization hasn’t done anything to reward most of them in their entire lifetimes, Ford Field is packed and loud week after week. You couldn’t go anywhere in the city the last 10 years without seeing a Matthew Stafford or Ndamukong Suh jersey.

So you’d better believe five episodes was enough for Lions fans to fall head over heels in love with some of the players they followed on “Hard Knocks.” You want proof? Team president Rod Wood said Malcolm Rodriguez’s jersey is the second-most requested of any Lions player behind Aidan Hutchinson.

Why would a rookie sixth-round pick be such a popular jersey choice? Because Lions fans are watching him on “Hard Knocks” and soaking up the hype.

“We created a monster,” Wood joked.

“To me, that kind of tells you who our fans are,” Dan Campbell said. “They’re buying into what we’re talking about. That’s kind of cool.”

Detroit Lions linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez works out during an NFL football practice in Allen Park, Mich., Saturday, May 14, 2022. (The Associated Press 2022)

Tuesday’s episode was difficult, at times, because most of us were rooting for the likes of Obinna Eze, Kalil Pimpleton, and David Blough. “Hard Knocks” showed the coaches informing Eze, Pimpleton, and others that they hadn’t made the roster, and while both handled the news well, they obviously had to be devastated.

Thanks to the show, fans not only have an emotional attachment to the team -- they also feel much more connected to Campbell, his staff, and the dozens of players who were featured.

When Campbell turned around and introduced Nate Sudfeld during a team meeting, it almost felt like, “What’s this guy doing here? He wasn’t even part of the competition!” It’s like if Harry Potter and Voldemort were both suddenly defeated by Darth Vader at the end of the seventh novel.

But that’s just the latest insight “Hard Knocks” offered into the reality of the NFL. Blough gave his heart and soul to the Lions during that final preseason audition against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but the staff thought Sudfeld might be a little bit better, so they made the switch.

It’s a tough business, and for fans who grew attached to Blough, seeing him quickly change into Minnesota Vikings purple had to sting just a little.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Craig Reynolds completed the feel-good story of the season. Even though the coaches acknowledged that Godwin Igwebuike has more talent and upside, they went with Reynolds because he more closely represents the values they’re trying to instill.

“Put his picture on that sign of ‘Grit’ down there -- that’s what we should do,” Campbell said.

Was it the right move for the Lions? We’ll have to wait and see. But I can promise every Detroit fan who watched “Hard Knocks” will be rooting for Reynolds whenever he takes the field.

Detroit Lions running back Craig Reynolds (46) rushes during a preseason NFL football game, Sunday, Aug. 28, 2022, in Pittsburgh, PA. (The Associated Press 2022)

Another consistent theme of the show was Campbell’s -- well, here’s how Stafford described it during an interview with Local 4 last week.

“You see (Campbell) on the ‘Hard Knocks’ show and you go, ‘Man, if you’re a player, you’ve got to love playing for that guy,’” Stafford said. “He seems like a really authentic person that I think plays really strongly into the culture of Detroit, and I think people will really enjoy it.”

Authentic. A representation of Detroit.

The loyalty that defines Lions fans -- Campbell’s got it, too. In this episode, he agonized over every single roster decision. He understood that he wasn’t just picking players for a 53-man roster, he was also affecting dozens and dozens of lives.

He started almost every meeting with, “Man, I hate this.” Right after cuts were finalized, Campbell was noticeably muted at practice, far from his usual boisterous self.

“Well, if it doesn’t hurt, it’s time to get out of this business,” he said. “I’m better. I’m better than I was yesterday, the day before. Those two days are the worst.”

He cares about his players -- even the ones he had to cut. That makes him an easy coach to root for.

To cap off the series, “Hard Knocks” asked several coaches to finish this sentence: “The 2022 Detroit Lions will...”

“...compete every game, because that’s who we are,” defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said. “We’re a gritty team, and we’re built that way.”

“...put the NFL on notice,” linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard said. “You want to reap things from this game, and the ultimate thing you can reap from it is a championship, and the way to get closer to a championship is a playoff berth.”

Campbell paused and thought for a full 53 seconds before giving his answer.

“The 2022 Detroit Lions will be the team that can, and will.”

Lions fans have never gone into a season with so much intimate knowledge about the team and its players. That means many will be even more invested than usual.

If Campbell and his staff can find a way to turn this group into a winner, that heavy investment from fans will morph into unparalleled appreciation and admiration.

If not, the disappointment will come crashing down twice as hard.

About the Author:

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.