Superman and Megatron: More alike than meets the eye

Posted Mar 26, 2013

Take a behind-the-scenes look at Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson care of Herman Moore and Nate Burleson, respectively

After a 40-minute interview with Barry Sanders and Herman Moore last week, Tim Twentyman and I each wrote a piece on the running back-wide receiver combination and its impact on the offensive gameplan.

While two stories are certainly sufficient, one story I feel has to be told is how there are eerie similarities between superstars Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson.

Aside from a slight height discrepancy (note sarcasm), stories told by Herman Moore regarding Barry and stories told by Nate Burleson regarding Calvin strangely matched up.

In fact, as Moore and Burleson tried to speak against the two players being alike, they ultimately confirmed that Barry and Calvin have more in common than meets the eye.

Sanders was known for flipping the ball to the official after scoring a touchdown – acting like he'd been there before … and he had.

Johnson was equally low-key until a few seasons ago when he started dunking the football over the goal post after reaching the endzone.

Moore speculated that Johnson did that due to being a receiver, and receivers are showmen by nature.

But Burleson says Calvin is probably more like Barry by nature.

"Calvin would be more similar to Barry in the showmanship if he didn't have so many people pushing him to be a showman - and I'm at the top of the list," he said.

"When I first got to Detroit, it was one of my biggest assignments to get him to celebrate and show off and to go out there and make himself more noticed than he already is.

"I watched him from afar in Seattle, but I had no idea how good he was. Sometimes you need to celebrate a touchdown in order to be on ESPN. Sometimes you need to mean mug a guy in order for people to recognize who you are. That's what he did.

"I can be honest with you in saying that, at times, I honestly feel like the only reason he does it is because of people asking him, people wanting him to."

One of the knocks on Calvin Johnson during his first few years with the Lions was his lack of vocal leadership.

Considering what he was able to do physically on the field, fans, media – and maybe even coaches – wanted him to transfer that domination to the locker room and meeting rooms.

Barry Sanders also dealt with that pressure.

"People initially, when you are the leader, want you to be 'the guy'," said Moore. "Not only the 'rah-rah' guy, but they want you to be the one that lays out the hammer if things aren't going well and be the most vocal.

"Calvin and Barry are not those players. They are the ones that they're going to say it to who they need to say it – probably more one-on-one – as well as in how they perform."

Though it was and is done without fanfare, both Sanders and Johnson have been able to instill their will in the huddle in their own way.

"He will look at everybody in the huddle and say, 'Hey, we need a touchdown right here'," said Burleson of Johnson. "He isn't arrogant or telling us how good he is, but it's just the simple fact that he understands his role on the team as being our ultimate playmaker.

"There are times when he'll tell Matt (Stafford), 'Hey, just throw it up to me, man, I've got this guy,' or 'I'm going to do a certain move, I'm seeing the way they're playing me. We're going to get in the endzone on this try and then we'll keep playing from there.'

"I think he does talk a lot more than people realize, but he is quiet. He doesn't say much."

Moore says the same thing was true of Sanders.

"The most you would get out of Barry is, 'Come on guys, let's go,' or you may get just a proverbial, 'Wow. We've got to pick it up,' or something like that," he said. "But he just wasn't vocal.

"But being in the huddle, he would just have this stare about him. And when he's so focused and so driven, you kind of fall in line with that."

Neither player is known for a big sideline presence, but both have managed to get their point across to teammates.

"We didn't talk much, but I know Barry would occasionally come over and say, 'You know, we've got to make a play.' He would come over and give his words of encouragement and those things," said Moore.

"Likewise, we knew what Barry was capable of, so there's not a whole lot we need to say towards him, but he would offer his words of encouragement."

Johnson has a different way of getting his point across that puts his capability on display.

"I remember one specific play, we were going up against somebody and he said to me, 'That guy just hit me low after I caught the ball,'" said Burleson. "He said, 'Next time I catch it, I'm going to dip my shoulder and run him over.' I was like, 'Alright, whatever.'

"So he caught a slant route and the safety tried to come down and hit him low, because Calvin's bigger than everybody, faster than everybody, stronger than everybody, so that's their technique to take him down … and he lowered the boom on that individual.

"Afterward, he gave me that look like, 'I told you so.' It was one of those Incredible Hulk moments where he was essentially saying, 'Don't make me mad. Don't let me turn green, because I'm a nice guy. This is my job, so I show up on Sunday to do my job. But if you make me mad, then it's a completely different ballgame.'

"That's what I love."