Calvin Johnson will go down in history as one of the most talented and physically dominant wide receivers in the history of the NFL. It goes without saying that opposing defenses feared him. Fans in Detroit loved him all throughout the city. Not just because of his play on the field, but also because of his class off the field as well. Calvin Johnson was always a man of few words off the field. He was known for being quiet in the media, and explosive on the field. It was a nice change of pace from your average prima donna NFL wideout. Words, alone, cannot fully detail what he managed to do on the field of play, though. It was certainly a treat to be able to watch him week to week.
Calvin Johnson vs the Detroit Lions: Who’s Guilty?
Greatness in the Flesh
Having “Megatron” was something the Lions took great pride in. He was beloved by many of his coaches, especially his former head coaches, Jim Schwartz and Jim Caldwell. And it was for good reason. Johnson was certainly a rarity. He had extreme talent and was a dominant force. He made Matthew Stafford seem better than he may have been at that point in his career. That team leaned on him to win games time after time after time. And this may have led to the downfall. Stafford and the Lions put Johnson through some brutal hits. He was exposed to some dangerous passes that led to him being sandwiched by two opposing defenders. His body definitely took a toll over the years. But Megatron never complained.
It was a wonderful rarity to have an even-keeled, business first type of guy at a position filled with loud-mouths. Over the years we’ve seen the likes of Terrell Owens and Randy Moss. Players like this never seemed to stop talking about how great they were, or how unhappy they were. Calvin was nothing like this. He never spoke ill-will of anyone, especially not his own team. Very rarely did the Lions fan base hear him complain. That is, until now.
The Judge Will Now Hear the Case
When Calvin Johnson retired, he said it was due to his body giving up on him. Fans were unhappy that he was gone, but understood. His hands were mangled, and his body had taken many brutal hits that would cause the average man to hang it up right then and there. Nobody could truly blame the guy for wanting to call it quits, albeit a few years too soon. He was still the most beloved Lion since Barry Sanders, who coincidentally, also retired many years too soon. However, in this case, something never quite seemed right.
Weeks went by, and we start hearing word that Johnson was upset with the way the team handled his retirement. He was quoted to have said that the team forced him to pay back a portion of his signing bonus. At first, the reported figure was minuscule, causing fans to wonder. Then the number started to grow to a point where people could understand why he was upset.
After that news broke, the Lions and Johnson debacle started to go quiet. Calvin was comfortably living the retired life and all seemed well coming out of Allen Park. And then the recent story broke. Johnson was interviewed by the Italian sports media during a football promotional event in Italy. They asked him the oft-wondered about question. “Why did you retire from the Detroit Lions?” Johnson held nothing back in his response. He explained how he felt the team had no chance to win a Super Bowl and that he felt like he was wasting his time putting in the extreme workload for nothing. He went on to say how he was stuck in his contract with the Lions, and they wouldn’t release him from it. It can easily be speculated based on this response that he asked to be released, only to be told no.
It is understandable that a star player would want to go somewhere he knew he would compete for a title. But if that was going to be the case, why sign such a lengthy extension that covers the entirety of your prime? Why accept over $113 million to stay with a team you didn’t think you had a chance with? Why stay quiet all throughout your career only to come out and rip on the team after you retire? So many questions, with so little answers. I can’t blame “Megatron” for wanting to win a championship. What I can blame him for is retiring, and changing his story on why.
Did the Lions Handle Everything Right?
Do I think the Lions handled the Calvin Johnson situation appropriately? Yes and no. The Lions kept quiet on the necessary subjects. But this was a guy that was as beloved as the greatest player in your franchise history. He was the best player of an entire generation of your fan base. Where was the love for the man on his way out? No swan song in his final games. No “Thank You Megatron” from the team. Not even an official presser to thank him for all his work and great success. Megatron deserved more of a congratulations than he received, there’s no question about it. The similarities between him and the Barry Sanders debacle just keep piling up.
Many people will tell you that the Lions are actually better off without Johnson. He demanded the ball from Stafford too much. Megatron was almost like a crutch for the young quarterback. He hindered Stafford’s development. It’s not hard to agree with that sentiment, but they still lost one of the greats at his respective position. That is not something that is replaceable. The offense had to reinvent itself. Stafford threw very few risky deep balls thrown without Johnson out there to make a ridiculous catch. They became a much more reserved, tactically sound offense. They decided that it was better to eat up clock, and score just enough, and at the right times, to win. That, alone, shows the impact Johnson had on this team.
Time to Move On, Detroit
So who is at fault in all this? If you had asked me last week, I would have still said that the Lions were at fault. I thought it was all just petty at first, and then the larger dollar figures came out and I started to question what the Lions were after. But now? Calvin is somebody that I loved as a Lions fan. The greatness was prevalent and obvious. I knew, as a fan, I was watching something I may never get to see again.
Now, I can’t help but have a little bit of a sour feeling towards Johnson at this point. This whole scenario has gone from a small petty spat, to a large scale petty mud-slinging campaign. I still love Calvin, but I can’t sit here and tell you that I still look at him in the exact same light. So who is guilty? Well, both the Lions and Calvin Johnson are guilty in their own ways. And as a Lions fan through thick and thin, it’s kind of sad to see unfold. But for the sake of our sanity, it is time for both parties to just move on before things get too ugly.