The Detroit Lions have a history filled with misery and heartbreak. The Lions seem to always find a way to let their fan base down in one way or another. Fans are used to non-winning seasons and no Super Bowls. Something the fans have gotten used to over the last nine seasons, in a good way, is star wide receiver Calvin Johnson. However, like most things that have to do with the Lions’ franchise, heartache looms. This time it comes off Johnson’s decision to walk away from football and retire. This is a similar, yet different situation that occurred for the Lions almost 17 years ago when one of the best running backs of all time, Barry Sanders, retired from the game. Both of these elite players were 30-years old when they decided to hang up the cleats.
Johnson hasn’t officially retired yet, but those close to him say he is content with his decision. ESPN reported on Sunday that Johnson had told his family members and close friends before the season that the 2015-2016 would be his last in the NFL. He told the same thing to head coach Jim Caldwell a day after the season ended. Johnson took some time to think it over some more, out of respect for Caldwell, but it appears that we have witnessed the last of Megatron in the NFL. Only two teammates were informed by Johnson ahead of time of his plans to retire and those players were quarterback Matthew Stafford and linebacker Stephen Tulloch. During his nine-year NFL career, Megatron wowed the fans. He caught 731 passes for 11,619 yards, both of which are Lions’ franchise records. He broke Jerry Rice’s single-season receiving yard record in 2012 with 1,964. The No. 2 overall pick out of Georgia Tech in the 2007 draft became the face of the franchise. If this is in fact his last season, which all signs are pointing in that direction, he went out with a bang, despite being banged up as he finished with 88 receptions for 1,214 yards (his sixth-straight season with over 1,000 yards and seventh time in his career) and nine touchdowns. Johnson only reached the playoffs two times in his career, both resulting in losses. It’s hard to blame a guy with piling, nagging injuries to want to step away from the game, especially at a young age.
Barry Sanders’ departure from the Lions was on different circumstances. Before the 1999 season, two season removed from being the NFL MVP, Sanders abruptly and surprisingly walked away from the game he dominated for years both collegiately and professionally. He is considered one of the best running backs to ever play the game after his Hall of Fame career. He rushed for 15,269 yards and 9 touchdowns while also catching 352 passes for 2,921 yards and 10 touchdowns. The sudden retirement was a bit controversial as Sanders signed a six-year extension two years prior. He later admitted that he retired because he couldn’t take the Lions losing ways. Despite being handled two entirely different ways; the Lions have now lost two Hall of Fame players at the age of 30.
Is this a sign for things to come in the NFL? Will we see more and more players walk away from the game early? That very well may be the case as player health after football is way too important. Former NFL wide receiver Antwaan Randle El recently came out and said that he regrets ever playing football and he wishes he would have played baseball. This is due to him having trouble going down a flight of stairs without any pain. Now, he isn’t on his last days, but does have trouble with certain aspects of life due to playing such a vicious game. The longevity of one’s health is far more important than the millions of dollars these players could potentially make on the field. In the case of Johnson, he has already made enough money for him and his family to live comfortably, so he feels it isn’t worth all the other millions he would receive to continue playing. That could very well become a trend in the NFL, after all the game is violent with a huge risk of injury that could have long-term effects. Johnson has been battling the injury bug for a few seasons now and doesn’t want to continue down that path, unless he somehow has a change of heart, which again, is unlikely.
While the Lions and their fans will now just have memories of Johnson, he is making what he believes is the best decision for him. Lions’ fans should cherish and appreciate what Johnson was able to do over his illustrious career. First it was Barry Sanders who walked away from the Lions and football at an early age and now it’s Calvin Johnson who is doing the same.