To call Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson a bright spot would be an understatement.
The record-breaking wide out continues to heroically illuminate an otherwise shadowy season for his teammates and fans.
“It’s amazing what he did,” said offensive guard Rob Sims following Saturday’s loss to the Atlanta Falcons, in which Johnson shattered Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice’s illustrious mark for most receiving yards in a single season. “I’m watching the best to ever do it. This guy is on my team, he’s had dinner at my house. Little stuff like that is stuff I’ll take away from the game.”
Standing under the dark cloud of losing is a painful circumstance for any competitor but Johnson provided his teammates with a point of pride during the team’s latest loss.
With 11 catches for 225 yards, the man called “Megatron” Rice’s mark, a record that stood for 17 years and was set when Johnson was just 10 years old.
Johnson now has 1,892 yards on the year with another game to play, keeping hope alive for the league’s first 2,000 yard receiving season. The team will play division rival Chicago on Sunday in the season finale.
“How many games in a row has he hit 100?,” asked Sims attempting to illustrate the chances of Johnson reaching the double-millennium mark. “He’ll get it.”
As the spotlight focuses on Johnson, he continues to defer to his teammates. Each player on the offense is attempting to distance themselves from the record as they encourage Johnson to take credit for the accomplishment but that is something that he won’t do.
He addressed the team after the game.
“You know Calvin, he didn't say a whole lot,” said quarterback Matthew Stafford. “But he told us he appreciated our hard work and our help to help get him there and he thought it was a team thing just exactly what you would think Calvin Johnson would say is what he said and I'm just proud to be associated with him.”
This is nothing new for the sixth-year superstar. He has always harbored a team-first mindset and been eager to share his individual accomplishments.
After a prolific 2011, Johnson was named to the NFC’s Pro Bowl squad. Johnson – due to injury – did not participate in the game but still made the trip down to Hawaii for the associated festivities. However, he did not go alone, he chartered a private jet and brought his fellow receivers with him – including special teamers and practice squad players.
“It’s actually uncommon; you’d think that somebody like that (would act differently) - his personally doesn’t fit him,” said receiver Kassim Osgood. “His personality is more of a special team’s kind of person. He’s a people person, he’s humble, he’s a jokester, he has a good time, comes into work and works hard. He’s fun to be around. I’m happy to see somebody like that be able to get a record like that because he is deserving.”
Still, despite Johnson’s willingness to share his magical moments, the Lions are faced with the reality of a 4-11 record. Improving in the won/loss department is where Johnson will be most valuable going forward.
“His best is yet to come,” said head coach Jim Schwartz. “Where he’s going to lead this team, the best is yet to come.”
The 27-year old Johnson is more interested in team victories than individual stats and he will do everything in his power to elevate this team from its current darkness, which is fitting.
Consider that Johnson’s place on the Lions is forged from the darkness of a 3-13 season in 2006, enabling the team to select him with the second overall pick.
Two years later, during his sophomore campaign, Johnson enjoyed a breakout season (78 catches for 1,331 yards and 12 touchdowns). Johnson’s success came despite a carousel of career backups throwing him the ball and was the only consolation for a 0-16 season.
After that season, the Lions drafted Stafford and the two have worked closely together since.
Stafford’s rookie year was in 2009 and Johnson has shown improvements in both yard and reception totals each year.
“(The Record is) half (Stafford’s) too,” said Johnson. “He’s the one delivering me the ball every week. When we both stay healthy man, we can do some special things out there.”
Johnson has already accomplished “special things” – he set or tied at least four NFL records on Saturday – but won’t be satisfied until he brings the Lions to the promise land.
Johnson has caught 483 balls – including 54 touchdowns - in his relatively brief career. It would appear as if the Lions couldn’t be in more secure hands going forward.
Detroit’s 2012 bright spot offers the team hope for a bright future.