Monday, Jan. 31 was a sad day for football fans all around the world, especially in Michigan.
On Monday, Calvin Johnson Jr., the best wide receiver to ever play football in a Detroit Lions uniform retired at the young age of 30.
My grandfather went to Georgia Tech, so I have always followed their athletics and I’ll never forget watching Calvin Johnson in his No. 21 jersey making catches that made defensive backs look like pedestrians.
I remember in 2007, when I was watching the NFL draft. I was aware that the Lions might be drafting Calvin but wasn’t sure they would do it. The reason why being that the Lions had drafted a wide-receiver in the top 10 picks of the first round for three out of the prior four years.
I remember the moment that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said, “With the second pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions take wide receiver, Calvin Johnson, Georgia Tech.”
I was ecstatic. One of my favorite college football players was now going to play for my favorite NFL team. I called my grandpa to discuss how exciting it was. You could hear in his voice how disappointed he was that the best player for his beloved Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets was drafted by a team with such a poor track record. I didn’t care.
Calvin caught a touchdown in his first two games as a Lion. This was a sign of things to come.
In 135 total games for the Lions, Johnson caught 731 passes for 11,619 yards, 83 touchdowns and averaged 86.1 yards receiving per game, all of which are franchise records.
Although he put up such spectacular numbers, Johnson only experienced two winning seasons as a Lion and never won a playoff game wearing Honolulu-Blue. So for all of the angry Lions fans out there, know this: you can’t blame him for leaving.
At the age of 30, Calvin had given everything to the Lions-his heart, his soul and his talent. What did the franchise give him in return? Sure it was a hell of a lot of money, but I have a feeling that for a guy like Calvin, all he really wanted to do was win and the Lions couldn’t do that for him.
This is a striking similarity to Barry Sanders, who also retired from the Lions at the ripe age of 30. Many thought that he had plenty of years left in him and many think the same thing about Calvin, but the question is, how much longer can you take it?
For both Sanders and Johnson, they just simply couldn’t go any longer in a Lions uniform. They had put their all into every game but had nothing to show for it but a truckload of money and their names etched in the record books of arguably the most disappointing sports franchise of all time.
If I were to guess, the moment that sealed the decision for CJ came in a week 13 loss against the Green Bay Packers. With zero seconds to go in the game, the Lions led the Packers 23-21, but because of a facemask penalty on what was supposed to be the final play, the Packers got one more shot.
Everybody and their mother knew that the only thing the Packers could do was throw a Hail Mary, except for head coach Jim Caldwell. He expected a, “lateral play” so he kept the best jump-ball player in the whole NFL on the sidelines.
All Calvin could do was watch as the Lions did what they have done so many times before in his career. They blew the game. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers heaved a long pass into Detroit’s end zone and we all know what happened next.
The camera caught Calvin’s reaction as he fell to his knees and slipped out of the screen while teammate and QB Matt Stafford throws off his hat in the background. That pass ended Detroit’s slim chance at a playoff appearance and in my opinion, solidified CJ’s decision to retire.
In his final game, Calvin caught 10 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown, which was a typical stat-line for CJ. It was when he caught the TD that I knew Calvin would not return to Detroit. I didn’t know if he would be traded or retire, but when I saw him keep the TD ball and carry it to the sidelines, I knew it meant the end for CJ in Detroit.
From all Lions fans around the world, I want to thank Calvin Johnson for all that he did for the Lions franchise and the city of Detroit.