Can Calvin Johnson Pass Barry Sanders As The Greatest Player In Lions History?


I want to start this off by saying, I am a freshmen in college, I’m 19 yards old. So with that being said, unless you count sitting on my Dad’s lap at 2 years old while he watched the Lions, I never got the privilege of watching Barry Sanders, being Barry Sanders.

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However, like all of us, I have been lucky enough to follow Calvin Johnson ever since the Lions took him with the 2nd overall pick in 2007.

For the 1st 3 years of Calvin’s career, the Lions were at the absolute bottom of the league. The Georgia Tech star found himself catching passes from Jon Kitna his rookie year then Dan Orlovsky on an 0-16 team and despite having a mediocre quarterback throwing him the ball, Calvin very quietly had 1,331 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2008.

In 2010, Calvin Johnson made his 1st Pro Bowl. In 2011 he exploded for 9 touchdowns in the first 5 weeks and earned all-pro honors while leading the Lions to the playoffs for the 1st time since 1999. With that season he eliminated all doubts over the question of who is the best receiver in the NFL.

In 2012 Calvin broke Jerry Rice’s famous record for most yards in a single season. Falling just shy of 2,000 receiving yards, which is unheard of even in today’s pass happy league.

It’s hard to compare a running back and wide receiver, two very different positions. It’s even harder when it’s two of the all time greats.

That being sad, there are a lot of similarities between the two.

Barry Sanders is not only the most exciting running back to ever play the game of football, he’s the best running back to ever play. He has countless number of highlights of incredible runs that are yet to be matched. He was the face of the Detroit Lions for the entire 10 years of his career. Even today you will Barry Sanders jerseys all over Ford Field every Sunday.

Being only 19 years old, the only way I have been able to see Barry run are through countless numbers of YouTube videos shown to me by my dad. From spinning defenders around, to him hitting the 2,000 yard mark and landing the Lions playoff spot against the Jets in a loud Pontiac Silverdome. Every time Barry Sanders was given the ball, he had a chance to do something special.

If Barry wouldn’t of walked away as soon as he did, or had a better offensive line around him, he would of set records that wouldn’t be broken for a very long time.

Barry, will forever be in a league of his own.

Calvin Johnson is the most exciting receiver, ever.

Oct 20, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson (81) catches pass in the end zone while being defended by Cincinnati Bengals outside linebacker Vontaze Burfict (55), free safety Reggie Nelson (20) and strong safety George Iloka (43) during the fourth quarter at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The combination of size and speed is something that has never been seen before in an NFL receiver and won’t be seen for a very long time. Like Barry was back in his playing days, Calvin is the face of the Detroit Lions.

I think you can make the case that Calvin is as exciting today as Barry Sanders was back in the 90’s.

Whether he is leaping over 3 defenders in the end-zone or running an  uncover-able fade route, Calvin Johnson is and an unstoppable force. He is capable of putting up 329 yards in a single game or running over defenders as if he was a power fullback. Calvin Johnson will also remain in a league of his own when he decides to walk away from football.

‘I am a Calvin Johnson fan. He’s a great guy, hell of an athlete, tremendous receiver.”- Charles Tillman”

Hopefully that won’t be as soon as Barry did.

One more similarly between the hall of famer and the soon to be hall of famer is that its almost impossible to find two athletes as humbled as these two. You never saw Barry Sanders spike the football, dance, or criticize his teammates. His touchdown celebration simply included handing the ball to the ref.

The same can be said for Calvin Johnson. Playing a position normally filled by egoistical divas Calvin Johnson is quiet and keeps to himself while spending most of his career being the only weapon on the Lions offense. Despite the obvious lack of talent on some of the early teams, Calvin Johnson never complained or called out his teammates.

Both Barry and Calvin did it the hard way, the Detroit way.

That is to say that they never had it easy. Let’s face it, the Lions don’t have the history of the 49ers or the Cowboys. For the most part Barry and Calvin had no help.

It goes without saying Lions fans will forever be grateful to have had two of the all time greats spend their careers in Honolulu blue and silver, but it’s scary to think how much better Barry Sanders would of been if he had the offensive line that the Dallas Cowboys had in the 90’s that allowed Emmitt Smith to be as great as he was, or if Calvin had the type of quarterbacks that Jerry Rice had his entire career.

Barry Sanders is considered an icon not just in the city of Detroit but the entire state of Michigan. Whenever he makes an appearance at Ford Field, like he did on Monday Night Football against the Giants, he receives a standing ovation. Accolades he more than deserves.

When Calvin Johnson retires, in my opinion he will be viewed upon the same way Barry Sanders is today.