Dan Campbell's shocking admission to Lions locker room is harsh reality

Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell spoke to reporters about how challenging it is to reach the NFC Championship game.

NFC Championship - Detroit Lions v San Francisco 49ers
NFC Championship - Detroit Lions v San Francisco 49ers / Cooper Neill/GettyImages

The Detroit Lions have never been this close to winning it all in the Super Bowl era. While the Detroit franchise has won four NFL Championships (1935, 1952, 1953, and 1957), the Lions never advanced to a conference championship game in the Super Bowl era, which began during the 1966 season. Suffice it to say that this season's NFC Championship appearance was historic in more ways than one. 

In 1957, the Western Conference championship battle was between the San Francisco 49ers and the Detroit Lions. The 49ers were such a heavy favorite that NFL Championship tickets featuring the 49ers versus the Cleveland Browns — the Eastern Conference champions — were printed ahead of the Western Conference game. In that game, the Lions' defense protected their late lead with four turnovers, and a field goal helped seal their 31-27 victory against San Francisco. The Lions went on to the 1957 NFL Championship and defeated the Browns 59-14, securing their third championship in six years. 

Today's Lions are not the Lions of the 1950s, who more closely resembled the recent Kansas City Chiefs or New England Patriots — all three franchises made the championship game four times within six years. Like most championship teams, the Lions haven't been able to return to the big game since then. That is the harsh reality of the NFL, and it’s a reality that Lions head coach Dan Campbell is acutely aware of as he contemplates what Detroit's NFL future looks like after the Lions lost to the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday.

Dan Campbell details the harsh reality ahead for the Detroit Lions

Unlike their 1957 showdown against the 49ers, it was the Lions who made critical mistakes that cost them the game. Before their second-half meltdown, the Lions led 24-7 at halftime. When the score was 24-10 with 8:24 left in the third quarter, the Lions' win probability reached its highest point: 91.5 percent. Then, it all started to fall apart: a fumble, a failed 4th down conversion that could have been an easy field goal. The Lions lost 31-34 after San Francisco won it with a late field goal. History did repeat itself, but it wasn't in Detroit's favor this time.

After the loss, Campbell spoke to reporters about how difficult it is to reach the conference championship. More importantly, he gave an honest assessment of whether or not the Lions could make it back anytime soon.

"Look, I told those guys, 'This may have been our only shot.'" Campbell said. "Do I think that? No. Do I believe that? However, I know how hard it is to get here. I'm well aware. And it'll be twice as hard to get back to this point next year than it was this year. That's the reality. And if we don't have the same hunger and the same work — which is a whole 'nother thing, once we get to the offseason — then we've got no shot of getting back here. I don't care how much better we get or what we add or what we drop — it's irrelevant. It's going to be tough. Everybody in our division is going to be loaded back up, and you're not hiding from anybody anymore. Everybody's going to want a piece of you. Which is fine. So it's hard. You want to make the most of every opportunity. We had an opportunity and we just couldn't close it out. It does sting."

Rather than returning as the Same old Lions, perhaps Campbell's unit can return to form in 2024 as the Lions of old — the ones who forged a short-lived dynasty in the 1950s.

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