DETROIT – Calvin Johnson made it official on Tuesday. He’s done. Johnson, the all-pro receiver, informed the Detroit Lions that he’s retiring from the NFL after nine seasons in Motown.
This was no mess, no feud over money, no behind-the-scenes drama. Simply put, Johnson, 30, just didn’t want to play football anymore.
“After much prayer, thought and discussion with loved ones, I have made the difficult decision to retire from the Lions and pro football,” Johnson said in a statement issued by the Lions. “I have played my last game of football.”
For some in the know, it wasn’t a total shock. His body has been aching for years. Apparently, his heart wasn’t in it anymore, either.That’s the only reason you leave a Hall of Fame career in progress early and leave $24 million salary on the table for this upcoming season.
Given what people know about football and all the long-term health issues, it’s hard to be mad at a guy who wants out of the line of fire.
Even early on, Johnson never seemed like a guy who you’d have to rip his uniform off to stop him from playing the game. Johnson always came off a talented player who played football because he was so good at it. But he never came off as loving the game.
In his statement, Johnson went out of his way to address that. Privately, many football players will frown on Johnson’s decision to quit.
“I also want you to know that I have the utmost respect and admiration for the game of football,” he wrote. “It has provided so much for me and my family and I will be forever grateful to the game.”
For Lions’ fans, it’s a replay. They saw this movie before and didn’t like it in 1999. Running back Barry Sanders announced his retirement the day before training camp by faxing a letter to the Wichita Eagle, his hometown paper.
That hurt a lot. But this one hurt as well. Johnson was supposed to get the Lions there, the Super Bowl. No one thought he would come from Georgia Tech and leave Detroit without helping the Lions win a single playoff game.
“I loved playing in Detroit and Michigan,” Johnson said in his statement. “I so appreciated your passionate support over the years and truly enjoyed playing for you.”I loved playing for you. I loved playing in Detroit and will forever be a Lion. My biggest regret is that I wasn’t able to help give our fans a championship.”
The ironic thing about Johnson’s departure is that the Lions quietly aren’t disappointed. Johnson was locked in for a lot more money than he’s currently worth. Plus, they now have a surplus of $11 million in cap space to spend on free agents. But fans root for players, not cap space. Many are upset. In Johnson’s last game at Ford Field, in the Lions’ 32-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers, he had six receptions for 77 yards. It was a good day, not spectacular.
“It wasn’t on my mind,” said Johnson, who was asked if he thought it might be his final game in Detroit. “Can’t help but think about everybody talking about it, but it wasn’t anything I was thinking about going into the game.”
At the time, Lions’ coach Jim Caldwell was on the outside looking in. As far as he knew, Johnson was coming back.
“I don’t anticipate it’s going to be anything other than what it’s been,” Caldwell said. “That he’s here, he’s been a great Lion and does a tremendous job. That’s what I expect and that’s all I’m going to say about that.”
“You guys are expecting me to talk into the future, I don’t even have my boss yet.”
With or without Johnson, the Lions have been lousy. They have now lost nine or more game for the 13th time since 2000. In the last 16 seasons, the Lions have made the playoffs just twice, both in Johnson’s tenure. Yes, they are officially the worst NFL franchise since the year 2000.
It seems incredible when you consider Johnson amassed over 11,000 yards, had seven 1,000-yard seasons and six Pro Bowls.
Johnson, also nicknamed “Megatron”, holds 15 NFL records, including the most receiving yards in a season with 1,964 in 2012. Sadly, most of Johnson’s magical moments didn’t translate into victories.
Just like that, he’s now done.