Dan Campbell welcomes new Lions supporters ‘as long as you weren’t bashing us early’

The Detroit Lions are one win away from making their first Super Bowl in franchise history, but first they have to get through the San Francisco 49ers in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game (6:30 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports App).

Win or lose, the Lions’ rise under head coach Dan Campbell has become one of the most heartwarming stories in sports, as the perennial punching bags from Detroit have electrified their fans and captured the attention of neutral observers nationwide. 

The Lions are a legitimate title contender, as Colin Cowherd recently pointed out, and were favored in their wins over the Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in front of their raucous fans at Ford Field. But they are seven-point underdogs on the road against the 49ers, and fans love underdogs.

When asked about the idea that the Lions have become “America’s Team” during this postseason run — borrowing that moniker, of course, from the eliminated Dallas Cowboys — Campbell said that new supporters are welcome, as long as they’re not just bandwagon jumpers.

“All we care about is playing good football, playing for each other,” Campbell told a Detroit radio station this week. “We love where the city of Detroit has been. Man, they’ve had our back and it’s been good to be home. What a special moment all of this has been, but it’s not over. So look, if other people are enjoying watching us play, of course we’re all over that. You’re welcome — as long as you weren’t bashing us early.”

Campbell took plenty of criticism from literally his opening press conference as Lions head coach three years ago, when he bizarrely and famously went on about his team kicking in teeth and biting off opponents’ kneecaps. The criticism directed toward Campbell — and quarterback Jared Goff, swapped for Lions franchise icon Matthew Stafford in 2021 after flaming out with the Rams — only grew when Detroit started 0-10-1 in 2021 and 1-6 in 2022.

Much of that criticism has since turned to praise, especially as viewers across the country looked on in awe at the atmosphere inside Ford Field during the first two playoff rounds. But Campbell has clearly not forgotten that criticism, as also evidenced by how he flipped the game ball to Goff after the Lions’ wild-card round win over the Rams.

Campbell even noted the growing number of reporters in the Lions’ media room during his press conference Wednesday.

On Wednesday’s edition of “The Carton Show,” however, Craig Carton said now is not the time to call out fans and media members who were critical in the past.

“This is when you get yourself in a little bit of trouble,” Carton said, “When all of a sudden you start chirping after you won. The reality is that you took a job that was the laughingstock of the NFL. … And to your credit, you turned it around. But man, you’ve been so consistent with the messaging and who you are, and the attitude and personality of the team. Now’s not the time to clap back at people that were critical of the Detroit Lions or questioned if you’re the right guy for the job, or if Jared Goff could lead a team back to his Super Bowl. 

“Those were all very fair talking points, because as we just celebrated, you hadn’t won [a playoff game] in over 30 years. What should we do, just give you a trophy for getting the job? So I think that takes away a little bit or can take away a little bit from all the positivity that he has earned, and that the franchise has earned.”

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