In the wake of Calvin Johnson's retirement, I can't help but reflect on my good friend and former teammate's amazing yet all-too-short nine-year career. During my four-year stint (2010-13) with the Detroit Lions, I watched Calvin work on a daily basis, produce insurmountable numbers and accomplish feats that other receivers in the NFL can only dream about.
When summing up his Hall of Fame-worthy career, I find myself going back to a regular-season game we played against the Dallas Cowboys in 2011. In the week leading up to that game, we kept hearing talk about how Detroit was a one-trick pony with Calvin, so we wanted to go into Dallas and make a statement. Our team made big plays, but nothing measured up to Calvin's crazy snag that day.
In the fourth quarter, Calvin gave Matt Stafford the alley-oop signal in the end zone. After Stafford lofted a pass into the air, Calvin proceeded to jump up and grab the ball over three defenders for a touchdown. Following the win, I had to literally pull Calvin into the middle of the locker room -- because he never liked the attention -- and I simply said, "Well, it's one hell of a trick!"
Oh, and later in the fourth quarter, Calvin hauled in what would end up being the game-winning touchdown on another jump ball.
What he was able to do in that game embodies Calvin's illustrious career, and his numbers speak volumes. He owns the NFL's single-season record for receiving yards, with 1,964 in 2012. He also has the most consecutive games with at least 100 yards receiving (eight, in 2012) and is tied for most career games with 200-plus yards receiving (five), including a career-high 329-yard performance in 2013. Not to mention the number of Lions franchise receiving records he holds: most career touchdown receptions (83), most career receiving yards (11,619) and most career 70-plus-yard receptions (eight).
Some people will argue that there are receivers with superior overall numbers who aren't in the Hall of Fame, but it's hard to imagine any of those other guys garnered the same amount of defensive attention as No. 81. Calvin was double- or triple-teamed in every game of his career. The Lions' entire offense was designed around him -- rightfully so -- and teams would specifically game plan to shut him down. He consistently exceeded expectations, even when facing the toughest of coverages.
How did he do it?
Calvin is so versatile, anything but one-dimensional. Guys who are that size (6-foot-5, 240 pounds) typically don't run routes in the slot. Calvin's ability to condense his size and run routes like Julian Edelman, then go on the outside and run routes like Randy Moss, made him unstoppable, with his speed.
Early on, Calvin understood the pressure and that he was carrying an organization, game in and game out. One of our former receiver coaches, Shawn Jefferson, would say to him, "Calvin, you're going to have to do more than anybody in the world for us to win this game. It's not fair for me to ask you to put up 250 yards in a game, but are you capable of doing it? Yeah, so I'm going to ask you to do that." But the part of the conversation that really stood out was Calvin's reaction. He didn't question anything or shake his head. He embraced the challenge without hesitation.
Calvin didn't just approach game day that way. He did it each day, working like a free agent in every practice, film session or meeting. I've never once heard him complain, and it was never about the stage, money or praise. It was about using the gifts and talents he had to work toward bringing a championship to Detroit. The man's humility is unbelievable, and the league is going to miss a guy who showed up to play football, did it to the best of his ability and set a great example for all. He could have been a straight-up diva like so many other star players, but that's just not Calvin. Not in the least.
So does Calvin deserve to be a Hall of Famer? Absolutely. He was the best receiver in the business for years, and not enough can be said about what he's meant to me, Detroit and the game. Yet, there is one final message I'd like to give him ...