A Tragic but Complex Farewell to Calvin Johnson
ALLEN PARK, Mich.-– Calvin Johnson is officially retiring, the Detroit Lions announced yesterday.
As the old saying goes, “all good things must come to an end”, and once again we are visited with this sad reality in the sports world.
Just a day after Peyton Manning officially announced his retirement via a press conference, the Detroit Lions announced yesterday that their top wideout Calvin Johnson was hanging the cleats up for good. It would seem as if is this is the week of “Leaving Legends” and that trend continued today.
In a statement released by the Lions, Johnson said that he would not be having a press conference to discuss his decision.
“I would expect to have a decision regarding this matter in the not-too-distant future”
Like many pundits, analysts, and experts, I thought that he was just simply contemplating retirement, and that he was just making a statement so that he could potentially force a trade to a top contender. However, today our worst fears came true in regards to the career of Calvin Jr.
If you recall, on Thursday January 7 he announced that he was considering retiring from the lions.
As is to be expected many current, ex NFL players, and other athletes including Jerry Rice took to social media to react to Johnson’s announcement Tuesday afternoon:
To say that Calvin Johnson’s talent and career were stellar, to me would be one of the biggest understatements in sports history. His rare combination of: height, size, speed, hand-eye coordination, leaping ability and strength were attributes that nearly likened him to that of a Greek God. In turn, it made him a matchup nightmare for all his opponents in many ways. Standing at 6”5’, weighing 237 lbs, and running a 4.35 40-yard dash at the 2007 NFL Scouting combine, his unique and special gifts made him the ultimate NFL prototype for a wide receiver. With a physical prowess like this he is worthy of the moniker “Megatron”.
However there is no question that his career still leaves a lot to be desired, and that we the fans would have liked to see more. As “Megatron” fans we’re all left asking, “Why would Calvin Johnson retire now?” Especially when there are so many more records to break. Especially when he could have made $24 million dollars next year. Simply put there are many uncertainties and we’re simply left to ponder them. That sense of emptiness will not be rectified for us anytime soon, but it’s something we’ll have to grapple with regardless.
Let’s take a look at the positives
Calvin Johnson’s career statistics are unmatchable, as he’s dominated nearly every statistical category at his position. He also holds 15 NFL records. In the last 5 years he’s ranked: first in receiving yards with 6,856, first in touchdowns with 57, first in 1st downs with 311, and first in yards after contact with 749. In addition to that, since 2007 he’s ranked 1st with 11,619 receiving yards, first with 83 receiving touchdowns and first with forty six 100 receiving yard games. Numbers like these are irrefutable, and he’s definitely in a class of his own.
However, his best season was undoubtedly the 2012 season where he finished with: 122 receptions, 1964 receiving yards, 16.1 yards per game, 5 receiving touchdowns, and his longest reception was 53 yards. Although the Lions didn’t make the playoffs that year, it was nonetheless a magical one for Calvin Johnson as he had many career defining moments.
Along with his great seasons, he set numerous records and had many standout games in his career. Here is a list of some of his best moments throughout his career:
- Johnson breaks the record - On Saturday December 22, 2012 against the Atlanta Falcons, Johnson broke Jerry Rice’s singe season receiving yards record of 1,848 yards. It was a special night for Johnson as all his efforts had culminated in the ultimate individual accomplishment for his dream season. In that same game he also became the only player with 100 yards receiving in 8 straight games. He finished the contest with 11 receptions for 225 yards, giving him 1,892 yards at the time.
- First 300-yard game - The Lions faced off against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 8 of 2013, and the duel between Calvin Johnson and Dez Bryant was the main attraction. Prior to the game, Dez Bryant had made some provocative remarks that set the stage when he said that he could do whatever Johnson could. Despite this, in usual Calvin Johnson fashion he said nothing and let his game speak volumes. He finished the game with 14 catches for 329 yards, and an average of 23.5 yards per catch. Needless to say Dez Bryant wasn’t so fortunate.
- The “Calvin Johnson Rule” Game - I personally remember watching this game on September 12, 2010. During week 1 of the 2010 season, the Lions were on the road taking on the bears. With 29 seconds left in the game and the Lions down 19-14, Calvin Johnson caught a touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford to take the lead that would have won the game. However after a review, the ruling on the field was that it was an incomplete pass. Officials ruled that he didn’t complete the process of the catch in the end zone. As a result, the Lions ended up losing the game 19-14 to the Bears, but the catch rule and Calvin Johnson’s name would be attached to those types of plays from that point on.
- Triple Coverage Part 1: The Cowboys were leading 30-17 early in the 4th quarter in 2011. Then Matt Stafford dropped back to pass when he saw Johnson in the end zone covered by 3 Cowboys. Stafford clearly having no trepidation, threw the ball Johnson caught it with one of his trademark jump ball catches and scored the touchdown. The Cowboys went on to win the game 34-30, and Johnson finished the game with eight catches for 96 yards and two touchdowns.
- Triple Coverage Part 2: A week prior to going off for more than 300 receiving yards, Johnson duplicated his triple coverage catch against Cincinnati. After a run down the field, Johnson jumped between safeties George Iloka and Reggie Nelson, and linebacker Vontaze Burfict to snatch the ball. He extended over Nelson to get the reception. This was part of a nine catch, 155-yard day with two touchdowns. But like so many other times in his career, despite his heroic efforts, the Lions fell to the Bengals 27-24.
With all these positives it would seem that Calvin Johnson had a standout career and he left completely, however there also some negatives that would suggest otherwise.
Even with all the inherent success in Johnson’s career, there were many complexities and uncertainties that surrounded his career especially in the last 3 years as his time was waning.
Over the last 3 seasons following his historic 2012 campaign, we saw a steady decline in the production of Johnson.
Calvin Johns Final 4 seasons
His YPG average steadily went down from: 17.8 in 2013, 15.2 in 2014, and 13.8 last year. Also his total receiving yards for those seasons went down as well from: 1492 in 2013, 1,077 in 2014, and 1,214 this past season.
For me, injury played a huge role in this especially for this last season, as many times he looked gimpy and tentative after many plays concluded. Another scary statistic is that in the 2015 season Calvin Johnson only had 2 games of over 100 yards receiving. These consisted of a week seven matchup against the bears in which he had 166 yards, and a week 17 matchup against the Bears where he finished with 10 receptions and 137 yards. Not a bad way to wrap up your career, but after coming off such a mediocre season, it doesn’t say much but I digress.
In addition to a decline in personal stats, there were some intangible issues that seemed to come up with Calvin Johnson in the last few years.
One thing that was quite glaring throughout his career was his lack of presence. On the field, he never commanded the huddle or showed a visible passion for the game. He was never truly a vocal leader in the same way all-time great receivers like: Terrell Owens, Michael Irvin and Jerry Rice were. To be fair, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but many experts attributed this to him not being fully invested in the game mentally. These sentiments were expressed louder and louder especially in the last 3 years as his on field performance started to decimate. Also, cynics and critics believed he was just coasting on God-given talent instead of putting forth his maximum effort.
From my vantage point, I understand that’s just who he is as a person and that throughout his life he’s never been a flamboyant or exuberant individual in anything he’s ever done. His quiet and unassuming disposition operated as both a blessing and a curse. This same seemingly nonchalant and passive manner that drew him criticism on one end also helped him to avoid negative press and headlines unlike other top receivers like the aforementioned: Irvin, Owens, Moss, Brandon Marshall, and Chad Johnson. He was very unique in that he was one of the rare non-diva receivers who shunned the spotlight and simply put on his proverbial hardhat and just went to work. This is akin to Kawhi Leonard in the NBA.
All in all, the career of Calvin Johnson is open to multiple interpretations. His is a fascinating career in that has provided us the fans with so many great and defining moments, but left us with a desire for so much more. He is a complex figure who always left a sense of mystery about who he was, but at least his peaceful disposition gave us little to no feelings of trepidation when thinking about his life off the field. As a player, his individual stats are phenomenal despite his drop-off in the last 3 years. All of that said I was thankful to have witnessed the career of Calvin Johnson as it happened, and it’s not easy to see it conclude. As I said at the beginning, all good things must come to an end.
I leave you with Calvin Johnson’s top 10 plays of his career