Calvin Johnson brought me home
I’m not going to lie; this is going to be a difficult piece to write. If you listen to the Detroit Lions Podcast, you may recall my first appearance. Less than a year ago I credited two players in particular for rekindling my love for our oft-maligned football franchise. The first of course, was Calvin Johnson. It was the perfect storm to be honest. My interest in the NFL was peaking, I was feeling extremely homesick after eight years in Southern California and the Lions were found once again with a generational talent on their roster. It was the first time that I didn’t start every season just assuming failure was around the corner. Of course, the years that followed were up and down with a playoff appearance sprinkled in but I clearly remember watching him haul in the pass that would lead to him breaking Jerry Rice’s single season receiving record in a loss against the Falcons. Despite yet another L in yet another lost season, I felt proud. I was proud that Detroit once again housed the best in the game.
There are people that say Calvin Johnson’s career was wasted by the Lions. To those people, fuck you. Seriously, what an asinine thing to say. No matter where this guy ended up, he was going to be a force. His “wasted” career is one that belongs in the Hall of Fame. Think about it, would you prefer he ended up on the Patriots helping Brady and Belichick to another four rings or would you be happier seeing one of the best to ever play bring a city hope and a sense of relevance in a league that all too often spurns them? The latter you say? That’s what I thought.
Reminiscing about Calvin Johnson is easy; the hard part of this is finding the “Silver Linings” in him not returning. Especially since next season will be the first one I remember vividly without seeing 81 on the field. So, I’m going to break it down into two different categories. The pragmatic look (the brain) and another look through some rose colored lenses (the heart).
I did my best to remove any feelings about this and look at Megatron’s retirement from a strictly logical point of view. Last year showed us that not only did we have holes on the starting lineup but also major issues when it came to depth. Calvin Johnson’s retirement freed up $11 million in cap space. That is more than enough money to not only bring in a couple of starters, but to allow Quinn to start working on making sure the “next man up” isn’t a traffic cone in a blue jersey.
In the wake of Calvin’s announcement, one of the narratives being spouted by the national media is “What happens to Matthew Stafford?” Granted, Stafford has relied on CJ for a number of years to bail him out of tough situations. He was able to throw it up into ridiculous coverage and somehow Calvin would come down with it. However, 2014 and 2015 were growing years for Stafford and the “he only throws it to Megatron” argument could be shot down quickly when you point to the games he missed in 2014 and how well Stafford spread the ball around in 2015. Calvin still got the majority of the targets but the margin is much smaller than it was in prior years with Tate and Riddick both hauling in 90 and 80 receptions respectively. While CJ’s departure will leave a void that is impossible to fill, it will ultimately help Stafford continue to grow without his safety blanket there – time to be a ‘big boy’ Matty.
One more thought on the subject that should be heavily considered. In the past decade, very few Super Bowl Champions have an “elite” wide receiver leading the charge. A top 5 talent for that position will eventually cost a lot of cash and it’s extremely difficult to build a complete team when 1 or 2 guys are eating up a hefty portion of the cap. As amazing as Calvin is, was and ever will be; he can’t win a ring by himself. This isn’t the NBA. Beyond the quarterback position, it’s rare that one missing piece can turn a team into a contender.
Now that it’s finally over, we can stop seeing stories pop up daily about how Johnson wants out of Detroit. He didn’t. He wanted out of the game that over the years has started to take a serious toll on his body. He didn’t want defenders diving at his ankles in his first game back from a sprain. He was probably getting tired of linebackers lighting him up on a crossing route that no one else on the team was tough enough to run. Calvin Johnson is smart. He hung it up before he sustained a serious injury or before he got knocked in the head enough to forget his own name by the time he’s 45.
Calvin got to go out his way. No press conference, no farewell tour and most importantly, no horrible last season on display for the world while Father Time laughs manically from the press box every Sunday. Andre Johnson and Roddy White have an incredible amount of my respect, but it would cut deep to hear announcers call Calvin Johnson “a shell of his former self” on a weekly basis. Instead, he finished on a “down” year totaling 1,214 yards and 9 TDs. For any other receiver, that’s going out on top.
The biggest “Silver Lining” in all of this is really simple. Lions fans got to experience 9 seasons of watching Calvin Johnson. One guy came in and broke every team record there was to break and a couple of league records along the way. He was by far one of the most fun players to watch for fans of any team. Whether he was somehow adjusting that giant frame that he possesses to find an errant ball or leaping over 3 defenders to somehow come down in the end zone multiple times, he left viewers in awe. He was every bit as good as Randy Moss or Terrell Owens but with an attitude that made you smile every time he dunked over the goal post (when that was a thing you could do). So feel lucky Lions fans. We got to witness a superhuman play in Detroit for most of a decade. Thank you, Calvin. You’ll be missed.