Calvin Johnson is NOT Barry Sanders 2.0

Nov 27, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson (81) during the third quarter against the Chicago Bears at Ford Field. Detroit won 34-17. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 27, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson (81) during the third quarter against the Chicago Bears at Ford Field. Detroit won 34-17. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports /

If you have been meandering the wild west that is the interwebs, odds are that you have been reading articles about the “retirement” of Calvin Johnson. I would put good money that most of the top rated (or most liked) comments utter a sentiment similar to “Geez, the Lions ruined another career of a Hall of Fame talent…….”. While those comments may seem, on the surface, to be valid complaints, nothing could be further from the truth.

These two retirements have nothing to do with each other. Both players played for the Detroit Lions and that is where the parallels end.

Barry Sanders

Barry Sanders retired in his prime. Sanders left the game just 1,457 yards short of being first place on the list for the NFL all-time rushing record at that time. His reasons for retirement had nothing to do with injuries. In 1998, which was Barry’s final season, the Lions finished 5-11 which was good enough for dead last in the division. Sanders finished with 1,491 yards rushing, only 9 yards away from giving him his 5th 1,500 yard season in a row. He played in 80 straight games prior to retiring. Injuries were never an issue for Barry, aside from his knee injury in 1993.

His retirement was born out of a frustration toward the Detroit Lions and his personal desire to keep competing. Many players on the team found conflicts with then Head Coach Bobby Ross. There was a revolving door at quarterback, and players like Kevin Glover (One of Barry’s closest friends) were cut as cap casualties. Although the Lions made the playoffs five times during Barry’s career, they only managed to win one playoff game.

Calvin Johnson

There is no need to go through the resume, but let’s take a slight refresher.  In nine seasons Johnson has 731 receptions, 11,619 yards, and 83 touchdowns. He is the franchise leader for the Detroit Lions in nearly every significant all-time receiving category.

Unlike the illusive Sanders, Johnson took his share of punishment. Johnson has only played in all 16 games in 4 of his 9 seasons. He is as tough as they come, often suiting up and playing through injury. Those injuries and playing through pain have ultimately caught up with him.

It all began during his rookie season.  In a 2007 Week 3 contest against the Philadelphia Eagles, Johnson sustained a nasty bone bruise to his lower back. He needed medication to help him play. “I was on meds the rest of the season,” he said. “I was taking Vicodin twice a game just to get through the game. I stayed hurt the whole season, probably because I was trying to come back too soon”. He also suffered a broken rib during his rookie season.

In 2009 he sprained his right ACL, causing him to miss three games. He played most of 2013 with a partially torn PCL, causing him to miss two games and deal with severe swelling all season. In 2014 he had a severely sprained ankle that caused him to miss three games and limited him in several others. He played in all 16 games during the 2015 season, but had plenty of rest throughout the season while still dealing with nagging knee and ankle issues.

Johnson is not going to retire because he is “fed-up” with the Lions. He enjoys being coached by Jim Caldwell. He likes his quarterback. He likes his team and their chances of winning. He is not sure if his body will hold up. He is not sure if he wants to endure the pain for another season. He is looking out for his long-term health.

Before you want to equate the retirement of the two greatest players in the history of the Detroit Lions, please take a deep breath and take a moment to reflect. These players are not close to being one in the same. Trust me, there are plenty of things that you can blame on the Detroit Lions. Calvin Johnson and Barry Sanders retiring is not one of them.

Next: Calvin Johnson and Jerry Rice

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