I'm having a hard time looking forward to a Detroit Lions team without Calvin Johnson. Even though we have been preparing for this moment for two months, the wound is still too fresh and the pain too deep. Johnson was the heart of this offense, keeping that side of the ball alive as all of the other pieces around him failed during his frustrating nine-year career in Detroit.
So instead of looking ahead to what the Lions will do without the biggest piece of their offense for the past decade, let's look back and remember the career of one of the best athletes Detroit sports has ever seen. Here is my favorite moment.
It was Week 15 of the 2011 season. I had been looking forward to this day for almost an entire calendar year. About eight months prior, a group of friends and I had the reckless idea of snagging seats in the middle of The Black Hole, the Oakland Raiders' rabid fan section at O.Co Coliseum. You can read about my adventures in this old Pride Of Detroit post.
After a frustrating three quarters of play, I stood a mere 120 yards away from Calvin Johnson as he lined up at his own one-yard line. The Lions were down six points and had just 2:14 to travel 99 yards for a touchdown. Despite scoring 21 points prior to that drive, Matthew Stafford and the Lions offense struggled all game. There was little hope the Lions could do much in so little time (with no timeouts, mind you).
But then Calvin Johnson took over. The drive had everything that made Calvin Johnson so amazing. Three plays in, Stafford floated a ball toward the Lions' sideline, and with a safety closing in on him Megatron hauled in the pass, fully-extended, and toe-tapped to perfection. The booth would review the play, confirming what we already knew: Calvin Johnson is a freak.
The very next play Johnson's deceptive speed had him blowing by the entire Raiders secondary. Stafford's bomb came up about 10 yards short, but Johnson had so thoroughly beaten his coverage he was able to stop his momentum, turn back for the ball and split the coverage before the Raiders defenders could catch up. A 48-yard bomb was unthinkable against a team that should be playing prevent defense, but most of what Johnson did was unthinkable.
He wasn't done yet. After a holding penalty forced the Lions back, Johnson drew a pass interference flag, giving the Lions first-and-goal at the Raiders' six-yard line. Two plays later Johnson cradled the ball in the endzone -- my endzone -- winning the game for the Lions.
Johnson immediately ran to his sideline and was swarmed by nearly the entire team. I had to hold myself back from jumping the wall to celebrate them. Johnson finished with 214 yards and two touchdowns, and the Lions would clinch a playoff spot the following week.
That game doesn't show up on the radar of many fans' favorite moments, but only because he's had so many incredible games in just nine years of outstanding play. What was your favorite Calvin Johnson moment?