On March 8, 2016, Calvin Johnson released a statement announcing his retirement from the Detroit Lions and the National Football League.
And in typical fashion for Calvin, it was done with dignity and a whole lot of class. Just about everyone that talks about Mr. Johnson would say he is one of the classiest people in and out of the NFL. I never personally met the man but the way he conducted himself on the field and in the numerous interviews I’ve seen on him, he is on my Top Ten List of people I would love to have a conversation with.
No doubt the critics of Johnson will say that he left too much in the tank and is being selfish for leaving the game early. Far be it from me to speak for Calvin, but in my humble opinion, those naysayers have no idea what they are talking about.
In the nine years Calvin played in the NFL, he caught for less than 1,000 yards in only 2 of those years. In 2007, his rookie year, Johnson caught 48 passes for 756 yards and in 2009, he caught 67 passes for 984 yards.
From 2010 to 2015, he averaged a little under 90 receptions per year and 1,424 yards per year. This includes the NFL record year in which he caught 122 passes for 1,964 yards, breaking Jerry Rice’s record of 1,848 yards set in 1995.
Calvin also had a game against the Dallas Cowboys where he torched them for 329 yards on 14 catches and 1 touchdown in which the Lions won, 31-30. This is the second most yards in a game behind Flipper Anderson’s 336, but Flipper needed OT to get all his yards.
Some other NFL records Calvin holds in addition to the most receiving yards in a season:
- First player with at least 2 touchdowns in each of his team’s first four games in a season
- 2 seasons with at least 1,600 yards (tied with Tory Holt and Marvin Harrison)
- Most consecutive games with at least 100 yards receiving with eight
- Most consecutive games with at least 10 receptions with four
- Most 100 yard games in a single season with 11 (tied with Michael Irvin)
- Most receiving yards in a five game span (861 yards)
- Most receiving yards in a six game span (962)
- Fastest to reach 10,000 yards receiving (115 games)
Detroit Lions Franchise Records:
- Most receiving touchdowns in a season (16 in 20111)
- Most seasons with 10 or more receiving touchdowns (4)
- Most career 70+ receptions per year (8)
- Most games with multiple touchdowns in one half (12)
It’s hard to argue his greatness. Calvin, at 6-5” and 239 lbs., caught just about everything that came his way. But his body took a ton of abuse with corners and safeties pulling and pushing on him, trying to do as much as they could get away with to prevent him from catching the ball.
And not once did Johnson ever call his opponents out or complain to the referees about what was being done to him…it was part of the game and he accepted it with class and dignity.
Even in the opening game of 2011 against division rival Chicago Bears, when he rose up above Zack Bowman to catch a Scott Hill pass with 24 seconds left on the clock. When the call was overturned, you saw Calvin shake his head in disbelief but not once did he berate officials or throw a fit as we have seen some other players do.
In fact, Johnson took it upon himself to say “That was me; I have to know the rules about completing the catch.” Though until this day, there is no one that can explain to just what is a proper catch.
He refused to let that moment define him. Instead, he forged on to continue to be one of the best that has played the position.
Let’s discuss his Hall of Fame possibilities. I may be a tad biased since he was a member of the Detroit Lions but I truly believe that Calvin has done enough to be a first ballot Hall of Famer. I can already hear the arguments that he shouldn’t…in fact, one fellow blogger from the Sportsblog pretty much indicates Calvin is not only a first ballot Hall of Famer, he shouldn’t even be considered for election to the Hall.
On February 17th, Anthony Eyeballs wrote “Calvin Johnson Is Not a Hall of Famer!” citing such various reasons that I will put arguments against.
- Calvin did not play long enough. I agree with most that Calvin did indeed cut short his career. But in this day and age of hoping for a good life after participating in a brutal sort, I applaud Calvin’s decision to leave the game while he still had a lot left in the tank. We can put forth the “love of the game” mantra, and for the most part, Calvin did show he loved the game. But football is a cruel mistress to the body. It takes a lot and outside of making a whole lot of money, it leaves that body in terrible shape if one stays in the game too long. Calvin wants to start a family and I’m sure he hopes to be able to pick-up his baby boy or girl without having shooting pains. Calvin loves the game but his priorities have shifted and now family comes first.
- His teams were never too great and never won a Super Bowl. This perhaps is the most erroneous reason for any player who had great careers but have this is an issue. Calvin Johnson was drafted and paid a lot of money to do two things: Catch passes and score touchdowns, which he did at an amazing pace. He was not responsible for drafts, free agency signings, play calling or which quarterback would throw to him. And he was not responsible for front office decisions…are you seriously going to put Matt Millen on his shoulders as a determent to getting into the Hall?
Jamie Samuelsen, co-host of “Jamie and Wojo” show, wrote an article in the Detroit Free Press “Jamie: Calvin Johnson is a Hall of Famer, but not right away.” He states that in pure numbers, Johnson falls short. Again, I don’t think people are taking into account what Calvin feels is the best for him and his family. Samuelsen says “If Johnson had played a few more years, he would have been ranked alongside some of the greatest names in the history of the sport, such as Jerry Rice and Randy Moss. Instead, he finds himself listed alongside receivers such as Santana Moss, Irving Fryar and Muhsin Muhammad in receptions, yards and touchdowns.”
I hate to break the news to you Jamie, but Calvin has always been compared to Jerry Rice and Randy Moss. Back in 2013, Jerry Rice stated “This guy is gifted but he also has the work ethic. A lot of guys are gifted but they don’t want to sacrifice and put the time in and he’s willing to do that. At the same time it doesn’t go to his head. That’s why I’m saying he’s only going to get better with that kind of attitude.”
This was after Calvin broke Jerry’s single-season receiving record with 1,964 yards. He also caught 122 passes, 5 of them for touchdowns in an otherwise dismal 4-10 Detroit Lions season.
These 3 wide-receivers, Calvin Johnson, Jerry Rice and Randy Moss all have one thing in common: Defensive coordinators had to tailor their defenses to stop them. And for the most part, they didn’t do a very good job. While in Calvin’s case, poor defenses caused the Lions to win less than teams Rice and Moss played on, I would say that Calvin gave defensive coordinators the most nightmares based on his physical gifts. I mean, just how do you match-up with a 6-5, 239 lb. freak of nature who could run a 40 yard dash in 4.35 seconds?
Along with that size were Johnson’s incredible hand strength and most importantly, how he could control his body in the air while making some of the best breath-taking catches that were ever witnessed.
Did Calvin retire too soon? From a fan’s perspective, yes. Who wouldn’t want to see a player of this caliber continue to play? But from his perspective, one I can only conjecture, he left the game on his terms and perhaps he could give a rip if he makes it into the Hall.
We shouldn’t judge Calvin on why he chose to leave the game. We should respect his reasoning and thank him for all of the great moments he gave us in his short time.
We should also embrace the fact that not once in his career was he ever accused of taking performance enhancing drugs, ever called a selfish player and never ever involved in any stupid off the field antics. He is a very dignified and classy player and person of unquestionable integrity, something that everyone should aspire to be.
In my mind, Calvin Johnson is already a Hall of Famer…for being a good person.
Thank you Calvin for giving us some great memories!