When Calvin Johnson retired at the end of last season, the prevailing theory was that the Detroit Lions were doomed. They were once again losing one of the most prolific offensive superstars ever to play the game. Instead of having a long storied career, Megatron decided to walk away from the game after just nine seasons. Shades of Barry Sanders had fans of the team up in arms. Once again a transcendent offensive weapon was choosing to hang it up early as opposed to continuing on with an organization that was heading nowhere.
Like many others, I was fearful that the loss of Calvin Johnson would negatively impact the team, and the offense specifically. I also had an opposing suspicion that losing the Megatron security blanket, could actually help advance Matthew Stafford’s progression as a quarterback. Through 14 games this season, it seems as though the latter turned out to be true. Stafford is in the midst of one of the best stretches of his career, and while a new offensive coordinator deserves a lot of credit for that, you can’t help but notice that he is spreading the ball around like never before. No longer does he have one of the best wide receivers in the game to lock in on, and it seems to have benefited the team in a big way. Does all of this hurt Calvin Johnson’s already much-disputed case for the Hall of Fame?
Don’t get me wrong, I still think the unbelievable physical talent that Calvin Johnson brought to the NFL merits his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But with how the Detroit Lions have performed this season without him, I think his case has been hurt in a big way. After the team’s 1-3 start, it was easy to start pointing fingers, and some people surely looked to the void left by Johnson’s departure as a contributing factor. Since then, however, the team has gone on a complete tear, winning 8 of their last 10 games. The team sits at 9-5 and is on the verge of possibly winning their first division title since 1993.
This works against Calvin Johnson’s case for the Hall of Fame. Where people were pointing at his lack of longevity as the biggest mark against him, people will now also look at the team’s success this season in his absence when making a case against his induction. During Megatron’s nine seasons in Detroit the team only threatened for the division title once or twice, and now in his first season as a professional dancer, they have a two game lead with only three games to play.
In five years, when the time comes to start considering the man known as Megatron for Canton people will surely point to this season as a reason for his exclusion. For reasons that are beyond me, it was already an uphill battle for Calvin Johnson. If the team should win the division, and somehow manage to win a playoff game, you can be almost certain that there will never be a bust of Megatron in Canton, Ohio.
Are the Lions a better team this year? Almost certainly. Does that have something to do with Calvin Johnson’s departure? There’s no way to tell for sure, but you better believe that people will paint it that way.