Calvin Johnson was so dominant as an NFL wide receiver for nine seasons that to get a feel for his greatness, all you had to do was play the Madden video game for a few minutes. The man nicknamed Megatron was preposterously, unrealistically effective in Madden.
Yet — like Steph Curry unleashing a 40-foot jumpshot you simply know will go in — the game’s version of him made perfect sense. It was somehow more realistic that way.
Now, at the young footballing age of 30, Johnson has retired from the NFL, joining a growing list of players who have quit football early.
Johnson did not hold a press conference or fancy farewell — he simply submitted his retirement paperwork to the league office on Tuesday, the Detroit Lions announced. Johnson had been rumored to be considering retirement for months.
Johnson finishes his career as the Lions’ all-time leader in catches (731), yards (11,619) and touchdowns (83). In 2012, he racked up 1,964 receiving yards to break the old mark held by Hall of Famer Jerry Rice.
That was Johnson’s unfortunate fate in the eyes of many NFL fans — a prodigious talent mired by an awful team. For all his individual records, Johnson’s teams only reached the playoffs twice and didn’t win either game. But that didn’t stop Johnson’s NFL peers from congratulating him on a legendary career after Tuesdays’ retirement news broke.
Honorifics and accolades flooded in from players, fans and media alike, congratulating Johnson on his success and thanking him for the memories. Among those to pay homage was Barry Sanders — a former Lions great who shares a little too much in common with Johnson for some Detroit fans.
Sanders was a Lions icon, and is one of the greatest running backs the NFL has ever seen. But in 1999, with some productive years seemingly still in him, Sanders retired after 10 NFL seasons.
Sanders’ early retirement was an anomaly then, but Johnson’s follows what could be an emerging trend. Last March, rising San Francisco 49ers star Chris Borland retired at age 24 over concerns about the long-term effects of a career built around head-on collisions. Meanwhile, a recent study by the Wall Street Journal found that today’s NFL careers are shorter than ever for a variety of reasons.
Johnson hasn’t detailed why he retired — but it’s safe to say NFL fans miss watching Megatron already.