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Detroit Lions great Calvin Johnson elected to Hall of Fame

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Calvin Johnson is a Hall of Famer.

The former Detroit Lions star is only the seventh recipient to be inducted with Jerry Rice, Randy Moss, Steve Largent, Paul Warfield, Lance Alworth and Raymond Berry in his first election year.

Calvin Johnson

Johnson, who fought back tears, was briefed on his selection by David Baker, President and CEO of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“The culmination of all the work, all the grind, all the ups and downs that you’ve been through just to excel at that level and have the opportunity to be frankly below the greats.” I’m sleeping with a smile tonight, “said Johnson.

A personal visit from Baker has become a new indoor tradition, but unlike years ago when the 6-foot-9, nearly 400-pounder jumped into a couple of hotel rooms in the Super Bowl host city, he had to make personal visits to each of the players’ houses weeks before the official announcement.

“Oh man, you made me good my wife, she made me good,” said Johnson. “I was in a business meeting, she called me and said, ‘Hey, we have our family Zoom call.’ We zoom in with our family about once a week, so it wasn’t anything extraordinary, but when I walked in, someone knocked on the door and she said, “Oh, it’s just my friend Mel.” I see this big figure through the glass and ask, “This is not your friend.”

“Me, I’m just like, OK, I have to get my shotgun or something because I see some people outside my door. She says, ‘Just go, open the door.’ … I go to the door and look around. It took about two seconds for it to sink in and my hair was pulled up straight. ”

Johnson is part of a class that includes Peyton Manning, former Colts and Broncos star quarterback; Defense attorney Charles Woodson, the former Michigan star who starred in the Raiders and Packers; Receiver Drew Pearson, offensive lineman Alan Faneca, who played primarily with the Steelers; Former Steelers Scout Bill Nunn, Former Buccaneers Security Officer John Lynch, and Former Raiders Head Coach Tom Flores.

Before Johnson even got promoted to the NFL, the two-time All-American was turning heads. The 2007 Scouting Combine measured the Georgia Tech standout at 6-foot-5 and 239 pounds and then completed the 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds. This is a glowing time at any size, let alone a receiver with Johnson’s oversized combination of height and weight.

He did not participate in any of the other exercises in the event. He didn’t have to. It was clear that he was going to be special.

Like most prospects in the Combine, Johnson was asked if he could compare his game to another NFL player. His response was a mix of Randy Moss and Terrell Owens with Marvin Harrison’s craftsmanship.

All three recipients have since been elected to the Hall of Fame. And in retrospect, the high level of self-analysis turned out to be just right. Johnson was an almost unstoppable disparity like Moss, who possessed Owens’ versatility and Harrison’s calm humility.

“To be a member of this excellent brotherhood,” said Johnson, “to be a member of the guys I grew up with, to be with the guys who I mimicked my game to say, ‘Hey “I did this because of you.” I saw you do this to get to know these guys and have conversations with these guys to learn more about what the game was like when they played. … So just to be among such a great group of guys and being the Excellence and the best at the game is really an honor. I am still beside myself. “

The Lions designed Johnson with the number 2 in the 2007 draft. The move undoubtedly drew some eye candy from the fan base, not because he wasn’t the best player available locally, but because General Manager Matt Millen was three in a row from 2003 to 2005 Years of weird top 10 picks had been issued to broad recipients with below average results.

But Johnson was too talented to continue the trend, even if it wasn’t enough to save Millen, who was fired in the middle of the receiver’s season two.

That year, Johnson established himself as one of the game’s top receivers. After a decent rookie season nicknamed “Megatron” by teammate Roy Williams, Johnson caught 78 balls for 1,331 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2008.

The Lions went without a win that year, playing five quarterbacks, but Johnson’s star power was cemented. The team would draw quarterback Matthew Stafford the following year, and that tandem would destroy dozen of franchise records over the next seven seasons.

Though Johnson only played nine seasons and about 60 games fewer than the average Hall of Fame recipient, his name is featured throughout the team’s record book. He holds the single game record for receptions (14) and receiving yards (329), the single-season mark for receiving yards (1,964) and leading the career charts for receptions (731), receiving yards (11,619) and receiving touchdowns (83).

Johnson’s 1,964 yards in 2012 remains an NFL record, and among recipients with 200 or more career receptions, his 86.1 yards per game is second only to Julio Jones.

Johnson collected the awards for his efforts. He was selected for six consecutive Pro Bowls (2010-15), received the All-Pro First Team Award three times (2011-13), and was named to the league’s All-Decade team for the 2010s.

In a preview of his opening speech, Johnson thanked several people who helped him reach such great heights, from high school coach Rodney Walker to his first position coach in Detroit, Shawn Jefferson.

“He’s kind of pushed you into places you never thought you could go and pulled things out of you that you never thought you could get out of,” Johnson said.

Of course, the team’s success missed Johnson. In his nine seasons he tried the postseason only twice, with both appearances ending with a quick exit into the wildcard round.

Johnson dominated his playoff debut, catching 12 balls for 211 yards and two touchdowns in a 45:28 loss to the New Orleans Saints. Three years later, Johnson had 85 yards and no points in the Lions’ 24:20 loss to Dallas.

But through those disappointing lows, Johnson was grateful for the unconditional love and support of Lions fans.

“I mean, my sophomore year there we were 0-16, but you still believed,” he said. “You still believed in the city, you believed that one day we would have a Super Bowl winner there. I hope it happens to you sooner or later. I’ve lived in Michigan all my adult life, I always am still there, I love you guys, I appreciate all of the love and support you’ve shown me from then to now. As I said, Detroit City is definitely number 1 in my heart. “

Towards the end of his career, injuries weighed heavily on Johnson. He had surgery to solve knee, ankle and finger problems and was considering retiring a year before hanging the cleats.

In his final season in 2015, Johnson put down 1,214 yards and nine touchdowns for 88 catches. And while he clearly remained a problem for the defense, Johnson’s heart was no longer focused on playing football.

He officially retired on March 8, 2016. He stepped out the side door without holding a final press conference, true to his longstanding preference of avoiding the spotlight that went beyond what his game naturally commanded.

After his retirement, the Lions attempted to reclaim part of Johnson’s signing bonus, which ultimately grossed approximately $ 1 million and created a gap between the player and the franchise that still exists today.

Lions owner Sheila Ford Hamp and team president Rod Wood have expressed hope to rebuild that relationship, and Johnson said he recently had talks with Ford Hamp in which positive progress has been made.

Johnson becomes the 22nd Lions player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame and joins a prestigious group that includes Barry Sanders, Lem Barney, Doak Walker, Bobby Layne and Joe Schmidt.

“On behalf of the entire Detroit Lions organization, I would like to congratulate Calvin Johnson on being named first candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame,” said Ford Hamp. “Calvin is one of the best to have ever worn a Lions uniform … This is the highest individual honor in football and I am delighted to know that Calvin Johnson’s legacy will forever be anchored in Canton.”

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Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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Dusty Kennedy