All Hail Megatron: Viewing the Legacy of Calvin Johnson
Triple coverage. It’s all you need to say. Lion’s fans will smirk and nod, remembering the glory of the moment.
Every Lions fan has a memory like this. One time that Calvin Johnson dropped their jaw. The man pioneered one-handed grabs before Odell Beckham Jr. was in high school. His greatness even has stained the rules on what ISN’T a catch, sparking debate on the “Calvin Johnson Rule” of completing the process of a catch to this day.
In 2016, however, saying the words “Triple Coverage” may bring a different reaction from die-hard Lion’s supporters. Instead of a mirthful smirk, you may see a down trodden gaze. You might see a lot of shaking heads and wringing hands. Reality is slowly setting in to the fantastical world Megatron has lived in for so long. In late January, reports came out that Calvin Johnson was headed for retirement. Many fans were in disbelief. Is Calvin Johnson, a man so legendary he is referred to as a villain of apocalyptic proportions, finally slowing down? Is he finally succumbing to the abuse he has taken over 9 years of dives, tackles, and flips? While shocking, fans could believe it. They had seen the hits he had taken. They saw Calvin on the injury report over the years for a variety of maladies: from his hands, to his knees, to his ankles. Fans told themselves what they needed to hear. That a violent game had unfortunately claimed another victim. He would forever be fondly remembered as the greatest receiver in the history of the Motor City. We would all have our Triple Coverage moments that would remind us of the glory days of Calvin Johnson.
Yet, the saga did not end as we all expected it to. There was no tearful press conference. There were no reports of a closed-door meeting where Bob Quinn, the newly hired GM of the Lions, banged on his desk and prayed on his knees for Calvin to hold off retirement for one more year. Is this a move that the Lion’s organization WANTED to happen? Is there some way that the Lion’s benefit from a Hall of Fame receiver leaving the team? So the rumors started to swirl. Maybe Calvin wasn’t walking away from the game because he was breaking down. Maybe Calvin was tired of losing. The Lions had done plenty of that, going 54 – 90 with no playoff wins since he joined the team? Maybe he wasn’t ready for another rebuild. Could it be that the second Lion that walks away from the game seemingly before his time just to get out of the organization?
Fans waited. They are still waiting. Now even more rumors are whispering through the media. Could this all be a ploy to continue playing elsewhere? When delving in to the Lions cap situation, it becomes abundantly clear that if Calvin Johnson chooses to retire, confirming that decision before March 9, that $11.1 million would become available for the team to spend in free agency. According to Spotrac.com, if Calvin Johnson remains on the Lions roster his salary cap hit in 2016 would be just north of $24 million. When the entire roster has to be constructed using the Lions adjusted NFL Salary Cap of $156 million, you can quickly see how paying 15% of your available funds to one player when you have to pay 53 is a tall order.
What if Calvin is not certain this retirement will be forever, a la Brett Favre. If he retires under contract with the Lions, they will retain his rights. So let’s say Calvin gets the itch in 2017. He took a year off. His body has recovered to the point that he can come back. If he retires while he is still on the Lions roster he would still be a Lion, regardless of what situation the team is in. If the Lions cut him… then maybe if he plays in 2017 he can sign with any team, not just the Lions.
Or Maybe Calvin wants to ride off into the sunset carrying a Lombardi trophy? Seeing the track record in Detroit, it is probably a good bet that they will not be in the super bowl next year (Although, Carolina was 7-8-1 last year before taking the league by storm and making it to the Super Bowl, so never say never Detroit fans!). So maybe Calvin thinks that he could go join a Tom Brady or a Cam Newton and taste the glory of playoff victory. It would be hard for the Lions to trade such an albatross of a contract, let alone to a team in a position to win the Super Bowl. So what if Bob Quinn gets itchy around that March 9th deadline and cuts Calvin… then that would give him the freedom to pick his future team. Some members of the media, including Profootballtalk.com’s Mike Florio, believe that is the game being played here. So is this a game of chicken between an aging star looking for a winning roster and a new GM trying to balance short-term and long-term success?
More important to all of those questions posed above, how should you, the rational Lions fan, feel about all of this? (Well, the thought of a rational Lions fan is amusing, since we are still cheering for a team that hasn’t tasted success since 1991. But, alas, this is sports. FORWARD DOWN THE FIELD!)
Let’s start with the most obvious of answers. If Calvin Johnson is taking his time because his body is truly failing him before his mind is ready to let go, he deserves all the time in the world. This is this man’s chosen profession, that he is essentially being forced to give up in this scenario. He is 30 years old. If an average Joe is able to do what he truly loves, he can do it as a career for 40 years or more. Calvin Johnson would have gotten 9 years.
Now, you or I can not know if football is truly Calvin’s life passion. It is possible he just realized that he is really, really good at it and currently people who are really, really good at football make a big, big chunk of money. I am of the opinion that he does love the game. I think that he is one of the few people in the world who get to do their life’s passion as a career. He was seen taking his time leaving the field after the last game he played in against the Bears. He took photos with Matthew Stafford after the game. Reports are that he lingered long after other players had retreated to the locker room. These are the signs of a player savoring his last moments. If Calvin’s body said “No more” after Week 17, as Lions fans we can not fault him. Simple as that.
So what if Calvin is retiring because he is sick of losing with the Lions? What if the way this organization is run has so far removed the will to play that he would rather walk away from the game entirely than continue on? This is the answer I would have the most trouble with as a Lions fan. If he is following in Barry Sander’s footsteps and leaving early because he just wants out, then the organization and ourselves as fans have a lot of introspection to do. Having Barry retire, while heartbreaking, could have been an anomaly. Great, young players sometimes decide that enough is enough. Football is a tough game mentally. Being on the losing end of so many games has to wear on the ultra-competitive. Yet, if Calvin leaves because he wants off the Lions team, we have a bigger problem. This would have been 2 of the top 5 all time players (arguably) at their position leaving to rid themselves of the organization. That means the culture needs to change. That means that everything needs to change. One could argue a culture change is under way with the new GM regime. This would reinforce to Bob Quinn that NOTHING can remain of the old Lions. Everything would have to change. The way they do business, the way they treat players, the way they treat fans, all of it.
The pill would be a jagged one to swallow. It could provide the wake up call this team might need though. Maybe if Calvin comes out and says “I didn’t want to be part of this organization anymore.” it will cause some good in the long run. I am hoping this is not the reason, because to be part of the sickness that deprives a man of his dream would be a lot to bear. Now, I truly believe this is the least likely option. Whether my heart is hindering my brain’s ability to be truly rational is yet to be seen.
The final option would be the hardest to grasp for the majority of Lions fans. If Calvin is faking retirement thought to jar himself loose so he can catch touchdowns in the Super Bowl, I am certain a ton of Lion’s fans would feel betrayed. Et tu Brute? While Calvin is off plucking spirals from Terrific Tom Brady or snaring long lobs from (oh heaven forbid. This would be brutal.) Aaron Rodgers en route to a few playoff victories, Lions fans would be left removing the proverbial knife from their back. This is absolutely the wrong view to take. The desire to excel should not come with an asterisk. We should not demand greatness from athletes and then scoff when they do everything in their power to achieve it.
If Calvin Johnson can taste the apex of the sport in a different uniform, fans should not shake their fists as they gaze up at him. They should applaud. Remember everything that Calvin did while he was here. Remember the three touchdown Philadelphia thanksgiving game in his twilight. Remember the 1,964 yards he gave in his prime. His lack of success here was not for lack of effort. He gave everything he had while he was here. The team, unfortunately, could not reward his talent. The pieces of the puzzle didn’t quite ever snap together like they should have. That is ok. It happens to far too many great players. Dan Marino never tasted a Super Bowl, yet he is one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game.
In a perfect world, great players would be rewarded with championships on the team they “grew up” on. It just won’t happen every time. Fans should not feel personal betrayal if a player chooses to try to win. The will to compete and the drive to be the best has driven these men for years. These were high school kids spending hours on the field, days in the weight room, priming their bodies for a chance to hold a trophy in 10 years. The level of dedication required to succeed at the NFL level is absurd. A player who plays on a team for nine years has put in more blood, sweat, and tears for a team than most people will put into anything in their lifetime. They simply want to succeed.
So, Lions fans, here is the deal. If Calvin is trying to play for a winning team, let him go. It will be tough. Our second best receiver will be Corey Fuller. We might very well have to deal with ANOTHER wide receiver being taken in the first round. We would have the boon of 11 million in cap space, and that is ]enough to sell faith to “rational” Lions fans for one more year. If Calvin ends up holding the trophy, we should smile like a kid from our block made it. We should grin like he just caught the Triple Coverage touchdown. We should say “We always knew he would make it”.
Whichever way this plays out, try to remember Calvin fondly for what he was, but look forward. Calvin will forever remain a legend in Detroit sports, regardless of outcome. The good thing about legends is they make great bar conversations. So when you’re grabbing a beer with your buddy Frank in 2035 and some new hotshot receiver hauls in a touchdown, you can say “Eh, he’s still not Calvin.” Frank will no doubt say something like “What?! Calvin was a hack. He couldn’t even play more than 9 years/finish his career with the Lions/etc” Then you can just say the words, “Triple Coverage man, triple coverage.” Frank will laugh and take a long drink from his beer, “That was pretty sweet”. Then you can bask in the glory of having bested Frank yet again, and then fall into sweet reminiscences of the terror that was Megatron.https://www.myfantasysportstalk.com/all-hail-megatron-viewing-the-legacy-of-calvin-johnson/https://i0.wp.com/www.myfantasysportstalk.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/a-1.png?fit=1024%2C640&ssl=1https://i0.wp.com/www.myfantasysportstalk.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/a-1.png?resize=150%2C150&ssl=1Detroit LionsNFC NorthNFLRecent PostsCalvin JohnsonTriple coverage. It's all you need to say. Lion's fans will smirk and nod, remembering the glory of the moment. Every Lions fan has a memory like this. One time that Calvin Johnson dropped their jaw. The man pioneered one-handed grabs before Odell Beckham Jr. was in high school. His...Colin AndersonColin Andersonander2cc1@gmail.comContributorMyFantasySportsTalk