By Ashley Dunkak
ALLEN PARK (CBS DETROIT) – To be sure, Calvin Johnson is any NFL team’s dream come true.
On the field, he is one of the best to ever play his position. Before the Detroit Lions had their bye this past Sunday, Johnson torched the Dallas Cowboys defense for 329 receiving yards, the most ever in a regulation game.
Off the field, Johnson is quiet and low-key, personable but professional, accessible but private. In other words, he is the complete opposite of loud, animated receivers like Terrell Owens, Randy Moss and Dez Bryant.
A rare breed, indeed – the humble superstar. Even Johnson’s teammates, more accustomed than most to his greatness, appreciate what they are seeing.
“Every day being with this guy is stories I can tell around a campfire having a few cold ones down the road,” center Dominic Raiola said. “You talk about football and special players, I’m around a pretty special guy. Every day it’s a new story, and I can take that to my grandkids.”
Johnson, who seems to take each new accomplishment in stride, got to reflect just a bit on his 329-yard performance in his week off during the bye. Even he cannot deny it was something memorable.
“It was special,” Johnson said. “You don’t really think about it too much, but when things are all said and done eventually, it’s like that was one of the better games.”
That was the extent of the response from the guy who had done what no other receiver had ever done before. What got much more of a reaction were queries about a young man from Michigan wearing Johnson’s jersey at the Final Table of the World Series of Poker. Ryan Riess, a Michigan State grad, switched out his Spartan gear after witnessing Johnson’s game against the Cowboys, and he wore it proudly as he won the final jackpot of $8.4 million.
As one who has racked up all kinds of yardage but not experienced much winning, Johnson sounded happy to see the Lions being represented for all to see.
“To see that he worn one, even though he could have been being paid to wear some stuff that sponsors, I guess, could have paid him to wear, that some love he’s showing to the Lions right there,” Johnson said with a smile.
Years of losing has been tough on fans and tough on Johnson too. To see someone wearing a Lions jersey on national television, taking pride in Detroit, seemed to be a change in the way people are viewing this year’s team.
“People are definitely accepting the Lions,” Johnson said. “People are definitely happy with the way we’re going right now because you see that out there in Vegas.”
In addition to his on-field performance and off-field attitude, Johnson has a work ethic rivaled by none. While he talked a little about his big game and a little more about a changing perception of the team, he seemed most comfortable talking about practice and how good it has been recently.
“The crispness of practice, I guess I would say, hardly any balls hit the ground when we practice, and it’s been going on for the last few weeks,” Johnson said. “Guys have got that into their mind that if we want to be where we want to be, we have to practice like an elite offense, and then that’s going to carry over to Sunday, and if you don’t practice like it, it’s not going to carry over.”
Various players have said throughout this season that the locker room is great, the chemistry solid. Being used to losing, accepting losing, is not something that is okay anymore.
“Any time you get a W, it’s definitely a great thing,” Johnson said. “The lack of winning that I’ve had the very beginning of my career, that whole I guess you could say culture of the team has definitely flip-flopped from what it used to be.”
Perhaps now, six and a half years after drafting Johnson, the Lions can finally give back to the fabulous wide receiver who has given them so much.