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Calvin Johnson says goodbye to the Detroit Lions

After nine seasons of professional football, the Lions receiver has hung up his cleats.

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

He's done in Detroit. He won't be departing for anywhere else to play football. He won't wear another uniform. Once he stepped down from the podium this chapter closed. Nine years of service were rendered in the name of a game that has taken its unholy toll on his body and his mind, and it was done for a city and a team that he has nary sent a foul word.

He's always been known to be quiet, soft-spoken; all in spite of the scowling nature of the Transformers supervillain whose name he bore since Roy Williams gave it to him. But his strength and words were there on Tuesday when Calvin Johnson released his statement to the Lions, Detroit, Michigan and the world and announced that he would step away from the game of football.

"Let me begin by apologizing for making this announcement via a statement and not in person. While I truly respect the significance of this, those who know me best will understand and not be surprised that I choose not to have a press conference for this announcement.

"After much prayer, thought and discussion with loved ones, I have made the difficult decision to retire from the Lions and pro football. I have played my last game of football."


There will be no press conference. He doesn't need one. It's not his style.

In a statement just under 450 words, Calvin Johnson made clear his intention to walk away from the game of football, citing the time, effort and difficulty it took to arrive at the decision to leave the game behind, although he did not say why he was making the decision. That will probably remain his knowledge alone for years to come. He thanked the Fords, Detroit, friends, family and the Lions organization for all of the support and memories. His biggest regret, he claims, is that he could not bring the city of Detroit a championship. Even as he leaves, he still professes belief for the future of the Lions.

He will not seek another team to play on; his days chasing victory and glory on the field have ended here. When he took the game ball from Soldier Field on Jan. 3 he took it understanding that it was the final play he would make. It was a process that has been in his mind since before the season, when he confided in Matthew Stafford and Stephen Tulloch as to the decision weighing heavy on him.

Calvin Johnson, son of the town of Tyrone, Georgia, was gifted with the size and strength that allowed him to dominate the game for years. By the time he was in middle school at Sandy Creek, he was already exceeding six feet in stature. Back then, he wore the number 81 over his pads every Friday night. The top recruit in the state of Georgia, he decided to attend Georgia Tech, where he became a multi-year All-American, set the school's receiving yard record, worked to solve Bolivia's sanitation problems and took home the Biletnikoff Award and the Paul Warfield Trophy.

Selected second in the 2007 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions, he once again donned number 81. The veteran Roy Williams saw his size, strength and massive hands and nicknamed him "Megatron" after the technological terror antagonist of the Transformers cartoon series. Johnson would be witness to a winless season and organizational overhaul, the rebirth of the franchise and two playoff appearances. He would be the recipient of more milestones and honors. Three times first team All-Pro. The single season receiving record. The fastest player to reach 10,000 yards receiving. The record holder for both touchdowns and receiving yards for the Detroit Lions.

He would also find his name applied to officiating controversy multiple times, most famously in 2010 when Gene Steratore declared that he had not maintained possession of the ball through the entire process of a catch. The terms "Calvin Johnson rule" and "Calvin Johnson catch" became synonymous with the Byzantine rules and regulations governing what is and isn't a catch in the NFL, invoked every Sunday when chaos and confusion strikes the field of play.

Calvin Johnson retires at 30 but his body has fought him since he began to play professional football. His style of football was predicated on muscling and bruising his way over defenders and catching deep passes through double and sometimes triple coverage, acts which forced him to play with brutish physicality. He suffered lower back pain and fractured his ribs in his rookie year, injuries extreme enough that he was taking two doses of Vicodin in order to get through each Sunday. He suffered numerous injuries in 2009, but following that season he found himself without a reported injury until 2013, when he suffered a partially torn posterior cruciate ligament; he tried to play through injury before swelling finally sidelined him. The next season injuries began on his ankle that would plague him for the entire season and flare up again in the next, and ultimately ultimate, season.

This isn't meant to be a eulogy. The life of a footballer does not end with football's final play. Calvin Johnson, Megatron, Sandy Creek Patriot, Georgia Tech Yellowjacket, Detroit Lion; he has cleaned out his locker, taken home his final game ball, said his farewells and set aside 81, but he has many years to play on new turfs. What's past is prologue; we won't speculate where his story goes from here.