On Tuesday, Calvin Johnson made it official, retiring from the NFL through a lengthy statement released through the team. No press conference, no Q&A session, no cameras, no flashes, no cheers. Just a link to some words thanking those who were closest to him in his nine years of service playing football in Detroit.
Ever since the Lions’ 2015 season ended January 3rd, this was something we as fans were waiting for. It still wasn’t enough time. My selfish side wanted Calvin to come back for one more year. Give the fans one last chance to appreciate his greatness and maybe make one more run at a playoff win. That same side of me sees Kobe Bryant on his retirement odyssey through the NBA this season and Peyton Manning being drooled over for hours the very day before with presser clips and cheesy cliches about how no one prepared more than him and Papa John’s and Tennessee and Indianapolis and I swear I read something that called the Mannings the first family of quarterbacks. I wanted that for Calvin.
But that’s not who Calvin Johnson is. Honestly, I think the hardest part of playing in the NFL for him wasn’t going up against the biggest, fastest, strongest humans grown on earth play after play for 150 some odd games but instead it was standing in front of reporters and cameras and sharing more of himself than he wanted to. A man that humble, and from all accounts I’ve seen humility is the enormous, all-encompassing basis for which Calvin Johnson the man has been described, just wanted to go out the way he wanted. And trying not to make a fuss about retiring is very Calvin Johnson.
At this point, I’d like to make a point that those “rumors” about Calvin wanting out of his contract make Lions fans almost as angry as I’m sure he was to hear about them. Calvin never wanted to play anywhere else. He never wanted the team to cut him. He never wanted to be traded. If he wanted to play for a better team, he had opportunities to leave Detroit. No one made him stay here. He chose to be a Lion. And with that decision, chose to be the best one there ever was.
It’s a shame that reporters took a down news cycle as a chance to trash Johnson’s reputation for clicks. Just like it’s a shame that so many people love to point to Barry Sanders and talk about how Detroit has now lost two generational talents to early retirement because they just couldn’t stand playing for an organization that was so down-trodden it literally sucked the life of out them. Bullshit. Is it true that Sanders and Johnson have a combined playoff win total of just one single game? Yes. But insinuating that these guys left a dangerous sport early because they didn’t win enough totally ignores the fact that players leave early because they value their lives more. There are tons of examples to point to for guys who stayed in the league too long and likely don’t have the mental awareness to even realize they regret it. Shoot, turn on ESPN’s NFL coverage any given day and you’ll find a half dozen. Maybe that’s the reason Johnson’s early retirement due to health concerns, both present and long-term, isn’t talked about in that light since ESPN is the NFL’s mouthpiece and they dare not touch that can of worms.
On a lighter note, I wanted to touch on my absolute favorite Megatron moment and it involves ESPN’s own Cris Carter. Back in the summer of 2011, Carter dogged Johnson, saying he wasn’t on the level that the other top receivers in the league were. Here’s a fantastic piece that was written by Tom Kowalski on the matter. Johnson’s quotes regarding Carter were kind of amazing and entirely Calvin. “I don’t really care. I don’t really listen. I didn’t even know what happened until one of the guys told me the other day.” And regarding Carter’s claims that Johnson got shut down by single coverage: “I wish I could get single coverage every game. That’d be fantastic.”
His response was basically ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
Johnson also responded through his on-field play, rattling off four straight 2 touchdown performances culminating in this catch against Dallas.
It’s my favorite moment both because I dislike Cris Carter and love how dumb Calvin made him look and because the Lions’ first game that year was in Florida. I live in Florida and I have ever since I was twelve years old when my family moved from Sterling Heights, Michigan. As most of you may be unaware, the Lions do not play many games down here. In fact, this game in 2011 was my first chance to see Detroit play in person without a 400+ mile drive since Tampa Bay and Detroit were in the same division. The first game of that 2011 season was against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Raymond James Stadium and I was there to see my favorite team start out a really amazing season with a record-breaking QB-WR duo.
This is the game I was at. Watch that video for the Tony Scheffler TD celebration if nothing else. After Johnson’s 6 catch, 88 yard, 2 TD performance, he went on to compile the 7th most receiving yards in a season (at the time, 11th overall currently) and 16 touchdown catches only to go out and break the single season receiving yards record the next year, which he still holds and may forever hold.
I mean just watch this highlight video of Johnson’s 2011 season. It was magical.
If you asked me who my favorite Lion is, I’d probably say Calvin Johnson. If you asked me if that was due to recency bias, I’d probably confess that it was. As great as Barry Sanders was though, I didn’t grow up pretending to be him when I was a kid playing catch in the street with my friends. I always pretended I was Herman Moore. Moore was always my favorite Lion and Calvin Johnson started a real push to overtake that spot beginning with that 2011 season. A season, by the way, in which Johnson finished just 5 yards shy of Moore’s best receiving season. Johnson went on to break tons of records including plenty of Herman Moore’s team records and I’ll just finish this by posting some fantastic tweets that sum up what Johnson has meant to Lions fans everywhere.
Not too bad Calvin! Not too bad at all!