Those are words that I thought I would never say, think or write after watching Barry Sanders work his magic for 10 seasons with the Lions, but now I can.
Both are incomparable players, the best among contemporaries at their position, and in a special category reserved for the greatest of the greats. When the ball’s in their hands, you take a deep breath and don’t exhale until they trot back to the huddle.
Their talent is that special.
Calvin Johnson elevated himself another notch Saturday night by surpassing the record for receiving yards in a season. Jerry Rice set the record with 1,848 yards in 1995 with the San Francisco 49ers.
Johnson went into Saturday night’s game with the Atlanta Falcons at Ford Field – a 31-18 loss that was little more than a dim sidelight to Johnson’s pursuit of the record – needing 182 yards to break Rice’s record.
Johnson got the record on his 10th catch of the game. He caught a pass from
His stats for the game were typically brilliant in a season in which he has pulverized the record book: 11 catches for 225 yards, leaving him with 1,892.
When the Lions get to the final game against the Bears, there might be another target for Megatron: a 2,000-yard season. Who would bet against him doing anything?
Johnson didn’t have a chance to celebrate after his record-setting catch. The officials did not stop the game, which is standard practice in the NFL.
Johnson sprinted to the sideline and gave the ball to his father, Calvin, for safe-keeping.
“When you’re in the game, you’re still in the moment,” Calvin said, with his father standing nearby in the post-game press conference.
“You’re still on the play that just happened, so I was still focused on that. I was in my zone. I don’t think I even said anything to my dad when I gave him the ball. I just gave him a hug. When I think back on it, it was a special moment.”
Johnson’s father had a tight grip on the ball as he stood to one side.
“I told him not to let it go,” Megatron said.
What about sending the ball to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton?
“Oh no; that’s my ball,” he said.
Rice’s record came into Johnson’s sights in the last half season, but only because the media and his teammates began tracking it as his yardage totals increased. And he’s been chewing up real estate of late like one of those land-clearing machines.
In the fourth quarter against Atlanta, he was within four yards of the record when he caught the pass that pushed him past Rice. He knew where he stood because his teammates were keeping track.
“The guys were telling me on the sideline, I’m like four, five yards away, so it was like one reception and I’m there,” he said. “So I’m like, ‘Shoot, we’re going to knock this thing down.’”
What about 2,000?
Better yet, how about 2,053 – Barry Sanders’ yardage total for the 1997 season.
Johnson needs 108 yards to reach 2,000 and 161 for 2,053.
If you’re going to break a record, and Johnson already has, you might as well put it out of reach of mere mortals. And that’s what everyone else who catches passes for a living in the NFL is – mere mortals compared to Johnson.
He is raising the bar on records the way greats in other sports have – like Wayne Gretzky’s 92 goals in the NHL, or Usain Bolt’s scoring 100 meters in 9.58 seconds.
Johnson’s teammates have reached the point where they marvel at his accomplishments in such a way that he leaves them speechless.
“We don’t even ooh and aah anymore,” said guard
How did Johnson’s teammates react after the catch that broke Rice’s record.
“We were just happy for him,” Sims said. “There’s nothing else you could really say. I think everyone’s pretty much speechless.”
By the definition of their job descriptions, there is very little similarity between a running back and a receiver. A runner has the ball handed to him by the quarterback and runs to the holes he sees in a defense.
As Barry once put it in describing one of his twisting runs: “(I) Run with my eyes.”
A receiver is dependent on the quarterback getting him the ball downfield, and there’s often a defensive back or two – and sometimes three – making a strafing run to separate the receiver from the ball and his senses.
But job descriptions aside, Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson are alike in how they dominant a game, and how they have elevated their performance to an art level seldom seen by athletes in any sport.
They come in all sizes and shapes and styles.
With the Lions, we’ve had Barry Sanders at 5-foot-8 running through defenses, and Calvin Johnson at 6-foot-5, catching balls over defenses.
The physical size and job description might be different, but Calvin Johnson deserves the ultimate compliment for the way he dominates the game.
Just like Barry.