The first thing you notice when you stand next to Calvin Johnson is his veins. They bulge from his arms like he's the Hulk, except as tall as an NBA player and faster than anyone his size has any right to be. Simply, Calvin Johnson is a comic book superhero capable of feats no one else alive is.
His dominance has earned the nickname Megatron, but it almost minimizes the flesh and blood of Johnson. He's a freak. The opponents know the Lions look to throw to him and can double and triple team him, but his size and speed make him uncoverable. Throw the ball up and Calvin will bring it down.
And he's a Lion. And will be for a long time too.
The Lions didn't have a particularly remarkable offseason besides getting possibly the freakiest physical talent in football history to commit to Detroit for the next eight years. Sure it cost $132 million, but in reality it could have been much, much worse. If Johnson had chosen not to sign an extension, he could have been signed to one-year franchise tag deals for around $25 million a year before testing the open market. It was a looming disaster floating around in the back of the feel-good season the Lions had.
At the press conference when he signed his extension, the usually quiet Johnson characteristically didn't say too much.
"I'm so comfortable here now," he said. "At first, not at all, but being here for five years, being around these people here in Detroit, teammates and just the city – I'm just growing accustomed to it."
That's not exactly a ringing endorsement of really anything. Yet it's a look into Johnson. Johnson isn't your typical superstar. He hates the spotlight, at least off the field. When I asked my die-hard sports friends what they could tell me about Calvin Johnson they all said he went to Georgia Tech and his nickname is Megatron. And that's it. He's kept an elusive quality about his life, which is a bit welcome in an offseason where the Lions made headlines for many wrong reasons. He brings to mind the last legendary talent the Lions had.
But he is still a star in the sport where fantasy football has made offense front and center in the fan's eyes. And it doesn't hurt that he is on the cover of ESPN the Magazine's season preview issue. And, yes, he's on the cover of Madden this year, putting the "Madden Curse" to the ultimate test. No human has been able to stop him yet, so perhaps the supernatural will be able to.
But Johnson addressed the curse blamed for derailing so many player's seasons, including Peyton Hillis last year in a tweet composed with the personality of a guy who isn't too worried about anything, including the formation of the English language.
"Come on my guy if u believe in the He that's given us all what's a curse," Johnson tweeted. And in many ways, this is the perfect summation of Johnson. He's too gifted to fail (at least, other than grammatically). And if it was any indication about how seriously he took the threat of a curse, later that day he tweeted, "Man this spelling bee is tough business." Johnson doesn't care about anything other than catching footballs better than anyone else, and he's achieved that in his five years in the league.
When asked about locking-up Johnson, coach Jim Schwartz said, "Calvin's one of those guys. We've said this about a few guys that we have in our building, whatever they pay him is not enough. He's truly a special player."
Team president Tom Lewand took it a step further by comparing Johnson to the previously referenced legend.
"There are not many guys when you do a contract of this magnitude," Lewand said. "We obviously did one years ago with Barry Sanders, and he was one of those kinds of guys, who is so special on the field, truly deserving of a contract of this size, and a guy who you have no doubt will handle all that comes with it with a great deal of skill on and off the field."
The comparisons to Sanders are inevitable. Both are insanely talented players capable of the seemingly impossible. They're the classic 'tune in just to watch him play' kind of guys that you'll be hearing about for generations. And yet there's one big difference between Johnson and Sanders. Where Sanders had to carry the team on his back, Johnson actually has talent around him, namely in the form of one of the best young quarterbacks in the league.
With a healthy Matthew Stafford, Johnson and his quarterback created one of the most feared duos in football history. With Stafford's arm strength on display for a whole season and Johnson more than happy to catch the ball, the two combined for 96 catches, 1,681 yards, and 16 touchdowns to lead the NFL.
With Johnson now locked up, they look to form a duo along the lines or Tram and Lou, Yzerman and Fedorov, Isaiah and Dumars, elite players who feed off each other and will grow with the team for hopefully years to come.
"We know what Matt can do," Johnson said of his quarterback. "We know what we can do as an offense. We can get hot at any time. There's a lot of potential. When you're fortunate to have a good quarterback, those don't come by a lot in the league. How many teams are looking for a No. 1 quarterback right now? I would have to be beside myself to leave here."
Johnson isn't going anywhere. Except where he takes the team. | RDW