June 15, 2024

DETROIT: Dan Campbell was able to return to the field despite having a torn triceps muscle.

With a knee brace protecting his right arm, Campbell, a tight end for the Detroit Lions in his sixth NFL season, faced the Chicago Bears on Christmas Eve, 2006.

Lions quarterback Jon Kitna thought Campbell would go post-corner on the backside with less than three minutes left in the first quarter, but Campbell beat him on a corner post. After making adjustments, Kitna launched a 23-yard touchdown pass. In the rear of the end zone, an overjoyed Campbell celebrated with both arms after making the grab before being surrounded by his Lions teammates.

Dan Campbell: Lions' hype train is 'out of control' – The Morning Sun

“I think about those times with Dan, and he just never ever complained,” remarked Kitna. “You just know there’s tough and then there’s Dan Campbell. Imagine having to wear an elbow brace and not being able to raise your arm and block people out and yet simply kicking somebody in the tail.

“Dudes who wear boots and hats are not to be trifled with in Texas, for a reason, bro. Dan is a boot and hat person, so don’t mess with them.”

After three more seasons and just four games, Campbell’s career came to an end with the touchdown against Chicago. His final numbers — 11 seasons, 114 games, 91 receptions, 11 touchdowns — show a career that lasted longer than most but don’t tell the full story of Campbell as a player and the blend of toughness, intensity, intelligence and humor he brought during his stints with the New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys, Lions and New Orleans Saints.

The bulky brace on Campbell’s arm earned him the nickname “RoboCop” among teammates. “When I played with Dan in my first year [2007], he was playing with one arm, but he was still out there starting and playing with beasts out there, but still sustaining,” said Lions Hall of Fame receiver Calvin Johnson of Campbell. “So, mad respect to him.”

Since then, Campbell’s football career has expanded to include a promising coaching career. As a part of the 2008 Lions squad that went winless, Campbell is now regarded as one of the NFL’s rising stars. His attention to detail and no-nonsense style have won him accolades from players across the league for his role in turning around Detroit’s fortunes. And after defeating the Minnesota Vikings 30–24 on Christmas Eve 2023, his Lions secured the team’s first division title since 1993.

“People find it really difficult to believe that how much he enjoys the game is real. Few people have the same level of passion for the game as Kitna did. “I really believe Dan would have been among those players who would have continued to play for free for as long as possible. Like, he just likes ball.

“He loves teaching it, he loves everything about it, he loves being with the guys and it just seems like that’s the culture he’s created there.”

The teammates, coaches, and friends that Campbell the player touched paths with during his collegiate and professional seasons will carry on his legacy, even though the coach Campbell is focused on building memories for a team that hasn’t won a playoff game in over 30 years. These are a few of their most cherished tales.

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