It didn’t take long after Calvin Johnson broke Jerry Rice‘s single-season receiving yards record for opinions to start to fly about what exactly it means. No one will mistake these Lions for Rice‘s 49ers, but does that even matter when discussing Johnson’s record-breaking season?
Jon Gruden let his opinion be known from the Monday Night Football broadcast booth:
“They don’t keep a record of meaningless yards, and these are meaningless yards,” Gruden said. “I hate to say it, but they are.”
The problem with Gruden’s declaration is that it attempts to assign something that is beyond the scope of the accomplishment. Calvin Johnson is the NFL record holder for most receiving yards in a season. That, like all records of that sort, are simple facts. Trying to assign meaning to the feat or comparing seasons to determine which is “best” requires the added layer of subjectivity. Want to say that Jerry Rice’s 1995 season was “better” than Calvin Johnson’s 2012 season? Fine, but that is a different discussion entirely.
Jerry Rice set a record, Calvin Johnson broke it (with a game still to play, mind you). When the next generation of football fans look into the record books and see whatever Johnson’s final number of receiving yards turns out to be, they won’t give any consideration to the Lions’ poor season or the circumstances by which Johnson accumulated his total. How many today are adding qualifiers to the mark Rice set since he did it in an expansion year that produced three of the top six receiving yards totals before this season, or that some measure of advantage shifted to the offense that season as it was the first that allowed communication devices in quarterbacks’ helmets? No one, nor should there be anyone.
What does Calvin Johnson’s record mean? It means no other player in NFL history has put together a season with as many receiving yards as he did this season. Was last week’s game against the Falcons meaningless from the Lions’ side of things? Yes, but every year there are teams that play meaningless games and many that play more meaningless games that the Lions truly did this season. But none of those players were able to do what Calvin Johnson has done. That should be celebrated, not debated or diminished.