Don’t criticize Calvin Johnson

I don’t blame Calvin Johnson.

He’s been asked why he retired from the NFL a few times and a year ago, he simply said that he was “fed up” with football and was tired of dealing with the physical grind of the game. Now, he recently came out and said that what many of us had suspected was the real reason for his surprising decision.

He was tired of playing for the hapless Detroit Lions.

In an interview in Italy before the Italian Bowl (Italy’s version of the Super Bowl), Johnson said “I didn’t see a chance for them to win a Super Bowl at the time” and that “For the work I was putting in, it wasn’t worth my time, to keep on beating my head up against the wall, and not go anywhere.”

Johnson was incredible to watch on the field. Detroit had began a routine of drafting overrated wide receivers and when they used another high pick on Johnson, there were some thoughts that he would be another spectacular bust for the franchise.

However, Johnson was different. Unlike some other receivers who were hyped up for their speed, he was the whole package. He was tall at 6-foot-5, but built like a truck that could just barrel over the vastly undersized cornerback that was unfortunately assigned to control him. He could break away sprinting down the sideline, leaving defenders in his jet trail and he could catch any football thrown to him.

Johnson was one of the few players that I actually would stop to watch anywhere. One time, the Lions were playing and I was on a blind date at Buffalo Wild Wings (Don’t judge me). Despite my efforts to focus on her, my eyes shifted toward the screen whenever Detroit had the ball. What do I remember of that night? A leaping touchdown catch he made over two Giants defensive backs. Needless to say, I didn’t get another date. I don’t blame Johnson for that though.

Even though they played different positions, Johnson’s career was similar to Hall of Famer Barry Sanders. Sanders had the greatest moves I’ve ever seen out of a running back, frequently jerking defenders to the side and then shifting to the other to break through a hole up the middle of the field. I still remember him making one guy spin completely around as he tried to corral him near the sideline. Sanders even scored a breakaway touchdown without one of his shoes. Watching him sprint wide-open with his sock flopping against the field was fun to watch and showed that Sanders could do just about anything.

Unfortunately like Johnson, Sanders was tied to a team that could never get things together. The weight was always on his shoulders to get the Lions to that elusive Super Bowl bid and that’s a lot of pressure, even for a legendary athlete. So just two years after co-winning the NFL MVP award, he surprised many by retiring much earlier than expected. Like Johnson, many have speculated that it’s because of the Lions’ ineptitude and their policy of not accommodating trade requests. Had either player been on any other team, they probably would have won that elusive Super Bowl and Johnson would probably still be in the league.

I’ve said this before, but even though I grew up a Vikings fan, I’ve always had a soft spot for the Lions. As a die-hard Chicago Cubs fan, I tend to align myself with snake-bitten franchises. This is something I wish I could stop doing, but I guess I’m a glutton for punishment. While I waited for my two beloved teams to finally figure things out and not trip over themselves and faceplant agonizingly close to that championship, I also pulled for Detroit to shape up. Unfortunately, it never did for those two guys.

Now that Johnson has revealed the real reason that he retired, some people are upset with him. They see Johnson as an overpaid star whose big contract kept the team from helping him and he shouldn’t be so bitter. This is ridiculous. If you gave the best years of your life for a business that depended on you to succeed and then gave you very little help to do so, wouldn’t you be a tad peeved about that?

Like I said earlier, I don’t blame Johnson for saying what he did. I blame the Lions for leading him to think that way.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is