Last week while my son was in town we decided at the last minute to attend an open Detroit Lions training camp practice in Allen Park.
For me, I knew it would be hard to compare it to the only other time I have seen the Lions go through their summer drills.
As a wide-eyed nine year old in the summer of 1964 I stood behind the ropes on the beautiful grounds of Cranbrook in Bloomfield Hills and watched my gridiron heroes in the Honolulu Blue. Up close and larger than life – Nick Pietrosante, Joe Schmidt, Gail Cogdill, Alex Karras, Roger Brown.
Back then (I know, “here he goes again with The Good Old Days” ) the practices were open to the public every day unlike now where there are only a few select dates.
So nothing could possibly compare to seeing your football idols up close when you are an impressionable freckle faced nine-year old.
I have to say, seeing the Lions’ All-World receiver Calvin Johnson run a pattern between two defenders and leap to snare a missile from Matthew Stafford fifteen feet away at the sideline where we were positioned was a sight I will never, ever, forget.
Standing in his sleek blue jersey, wearing black pants, black gloves, silver helmet with the black facemask and tinted visor, the 6’5” and 236 pound receiver looks like a comic book superhero.
Although nicknamed “Megatron” by former teammate Roy Williams, Johnson doesn’t look at all like the bulky robot from Transformers. I would pick Ndamukong Suh for that moniker. Calvin is more like Spiderman to me. Or at least Superman, with the ability to “leap tall buildings in a single bound.”
Johnson may be the most athletic Detroit sports star I have ever seen in terms of strength, speed, and agility.
Consider these facts about Calvin Johnson.
- Wingspan of 6 feet 10 inches
- Standing reach of 8 feet 8 inches
- Vertical leap of 42.5 inches
- Maximum reach of 12 feet five inches
- Ran a 4.35 40-yard dash at the NFL combine using borrowed shoes!
When you look at his Velcro hands, leaping ability, speed, the way he runs precise pass patterns, and the fact that he has a catching radius the size of a two car garage, (taking nothing away from Matthew Stafford) even Joey Harrington may have looked like Joe Montana had he had Johnson as a target.
In five years with the Lions, Johnson has amassed 5,872 receiving yards with 366 receptions and 49 touchdowns. It is no wonder that in ESPN’s recent ranking of the top 200 NFL players, Calvin was picked fourth, and is the highest ranked non-quarterback in the league.
It was difficult for us to take our eyes off of a Johnson even when he was not the intended receiver.
Johnson was pure poetry in motion on a nice summer morning, and believe me, well worth the trip to Allen Park.