I’m still processing the Lions 31-30 win over the Cowboys on Sunday. I had a friend over, in the genre of “first time over at the house,” so the first half of the game was spent in that “don’t want to freak the guy out over my sports fandom*” zone. Discussions about kids, mundane life stuff, etc.
But as the game went on, we were drawn in by one player: Calvin. Now, I’d seen multiple 200 yard + games by Megatron. It’s bizarre when a player is so great that spectacular performances are actually trivial. But our appreciation was muted: the performance, 329 yards, the *real* NFL record (Flipper Anderson got 30 of his yards in overtime, so in reality, Calvin has the record) for yards by a receiver in one game, was about to be spoiled by a Lions loss.
Then, “The Comeback of 2013″ happened. I let out a whoop so loud that I scared the poor girl that is living in our home to study english, who has no idea about football or even ridiculous sports fandom (she thought they had lost, and had to be told later that they had in fact won, based on my battle cry at the end).
But the comeback was special, beyond getting us a needed win, because it allowed Calvin’s historic day to actually be appreciated sans any caveats. Frankly, the Lions, as a team, didn’t deserve to win, but Calvin Johnson, the player, did.
And Monday, as I sit and read Grantland and other various sports media, and how they gush and gawk about our brilliant receiver, and I see famous athlete twitter accounts like Lebron James shout out praise of the highest order, it struck me:
He’s back. Barry Sanders.
No, not literally. But I mean, the PHENOMENON, the thrill of having a player that is on another level from everyone else, that is back.
If you remember watching Sanders, you remember how every game was a potential thrill, because he was probably going to do something you hadn’t seen before. With Sanders, it was those brilliant runs, the type you see Reggie Bush do now, but with even more skill. With Calvin, it’s those giant hands, leaping, impossibly high, clutching, grabbing, snagging, with perfect timing, footballs out of the sky, defenders all around. The catches Calvin makes are works of art. The lob to the middle of the field with 6 minutes left in the 4th quarter, when the Lions were down ten points and looking defeated, was probably the prettiest catch of the day. Two defenders on each side, everything had to work in perfect order for the catch to happen. The leap. The extension of the arms. The catch itself. Pulling the ball in. It’s a machine of irreducible complexity, right down to how both defenders bounced off the 6’5” frame like pinballs.
Calvin’s growth into this extremely rare, once in a generation status was slower than Barry’s. Barry was pretty much instantly Barry. Literally from carry number one. Calvin showed his talent early, too, but the Lions were so bad, with quarterback play so hideous, that even his considerable raw talent wasn’t enough.
Megatron made “the leap” in 2011, when the Lions had a magical year. In particular, games against the Vikings and.. you guessed it, the Cowboys (after a similar “bulletin board” type incident occurred: Rob Ryan saying Johnson would be the #3 receiver for Dallas) would open people’s eyes beyond Detroit. And he proved it wasn’t a one season fluke last year, having an eye-popping season of over 1900 yards receiving.
One can only hope the Lions continue to have success this year, and take their solid 5-3 record into a playoff berth. Sports fans deserve to see this man play in bigger and better games. Think about the thrill of seeing Justin Verlander toe the slab in huge playoff games this past three years. We’ve only seen Megatron in one playoff game so far.
Let’s hope that, unlike the player I am now comparing him too, Johnson has more playoff opportunities.
*which, to be fair, is a borderline mental illness.