Calvin Johnson as he leaves the field. Picture from Getty Images
By David Sheridan
Detroit Lions fans have not had too much to cheer for in recent years. Honestly, the only major things the franchise is known for are their win-less season back in 2008 and that they had one of the greatest players in their team’s history retire at the prime of his career. Unfortunately for them, the latter seems very likely to happen again.
Barry Sanders was one of the hardest running and elusive running backs in NFL history. He was the offensive rookie of the year in 1989, the league MVP in 1997 and is currently third all-time in rushing yards, behind only Walter Payton and Emmitt Smith. With all the success he had in his career, what Sanders is probably most known for is his sudden retirement following the 1998 season.
Nine years later, in 2007, the Lions were in limbo. They hadn’t had a winning season since 2000 and hadn’t been in the postseason since 1999. With the second pick in the draft, they decided to go with Calvin Johnson, a wide receiver out of Georgia Tech. Johnson’s career has had its ups and downs, but now it seems like he is following in Sanders’s footsteps and could retire in the prime of his career.
His career started off slowly, as his second season saw the Lions become the first team in NFL history to go 0-16. The following two seasons were not much easier for Johnson as the entire team struggled behind rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford in 2009. They then had to go most of the next season with their backup as the starter when Stafford went down to a shoulder injury in week one. Since then, Johnson has emerged as arguably the best receiver in the league today.
With a healthy Stafford at the helm, the two players became one of the most dangerous quarterback/receiver duos in the league. They led the Lions to a playoff spot, and fans around the league started seeing the elite potential Johnson had. In 2012, Johnson broke Jerry Rice’s record for the most receiving yards in a single season.
Recently, reports have come out that Johnson has plans to retire during this offseason. The claim is that he wants to retire because the Lions are not building the franchise up to be a legitimate title contender, which is the alleged reason Sanders retired back in ’98. Supposedly, both players requested trades or any way out of their contracts, but the Lions refused to oblige.
It may be a coincidence that both Sanders and Johnson played for the Lions and both decided that an early retirement was best for them. It might be the Lions organization that caused them to leave the league. Or maybe the city of Detroit was slowly sucking the will to play out of these players and they just got out before it took all they had. Whatever the reason is, Calvin Johnson’s departure will leave a void in the NFL because he is one of the most entertaining receivers to watch.