Megatron: Spotlight on Calvin Johnson
By Evan Benton
The hundreds of players in the NFL are perhaps not as skilled with their nickname creating as they are in the sport.
Calling renowned Pittsburgh Steelers’ safety Troy Polamalu “The Tasmanian Devil”, for instance, makes little sense, especially given the fact that Polamalu looks nothing like the Looney Tunes’ character and is, in fact, of Samoan descent. Same with “Amish Rifle” for surging Buffalo Bills quarterback and Harvard alumni Ryan Fitzpatrick, or the very annoying “RUN DMC” for Oakland Raiders’ back Darren McFadden. I doubt Darren even knows what seminal hip-hop group his name is being played on consistently by gab artist Rich Eisen on NFL Network.
But then there are some beauties. Besides “The Blonde Bomber” and “Roger the Dodger” for 1970s Hall of Famers Terry Bradshaw and Roger Staubach, there’s “The Mossiah” for Randy Moss in his unrivaled 1998 rookie year, “Pocket Hercules” for undersized but buff Jacksonville back Maurice Jones-Drew, and even the simplistic but catchy Michael “the Burner” Turner.
Somewhere in between these two extremes is one of the most imaginative nicknames of any NFL player – “Megatron” for Detroit Lions superstar, wide receiver Calvin Johnson.
As leader of the red-eyed Decepticons, the evil junta of the Transformers universe, Megatron wages constant battle against Optimus Prime and his Autobots, shifting into all ranges of cars, helicopters and planes along the way. Calvin Johnson is no shape-shifting metal robot, true, but he is absolutely massive.
The 25-year-old Georgia Tech alum is a 6’5″, 236-pound monster – a towering figure to cover and block, and a wonderful target for quarterbacks. He holds records as a Yellow Jacket in career receiving yards, touchdown receptions and most games of 100+ receiving yards (13). At the end of his junior year Johnson tallied 1,202 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Johnson declared himself eligible for the 2007 NFL Draft following his junior year at Tech, a season in which he finished 10th in Heisman Trophy voting and earned the Fred Biletnikoff Award – other honorees include Randy Moss, Braylon Edwards and Larry Fitzgerald – as the NCAA’s top wide receiver. Touted as the best wide receiver – if not player – in the draft, Johnson was a bonafide celebrity at Radio City Music Hall that year.
On the board, a rebuilding Raiders franchise selected LSU behemoth JaMarcus Russell first overall, and the Detroit Lions, in their fourth time selecting a wide receiver first in five years, got Johnson. But unlike Charles Rogers (2003, 2nd), Mike Williams (2005, 10th) and even Roy Williams, Jr. (2004, 7th), Johnson has not been a bust, or even a slight disappointment. In fact, quite the opposite.
Megatron from Transformers may be able to shift into sleek Nissan Zs and deadly assault aircraft when he wants to get moving, but the Megatron of the NFL has size-belying speed that’s distinctly uncommon in his class – and completely natural. Even with his weight and height, Johnson ran a 4.33 second 40-yard dash – second only to Kansas State’s Yamon Figurs in his class- and a freakish 45-inch vertical leap at 2007’s Combine.
This has helped Johnson live up to the standard he set in college, currently at 4,755 receiving yards and 42 touchdowns for his career – all with the Lions. Johnson endured an injury-plagued rookie year, an outstanding sophomore NFL season (1,331 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns) overshadowed by his teams’ horrific 0-16 record, and a 2-14 one in 2009 in which he missed two games. In 2010 he would fight for 1,120 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns en route to his first Pro Bowl.
And then there’s the present 2011 season, where in just six games he’s put up 564 yards – 94.0 yards per game – and an astounding nine touchdowns.
Johnson, who has hit a rapport with third-year quarterback and 2009 first round pick Matt Stafford that no one in the NFL can match, put up two touchdowns in each of his first four games this season. He is on pace for unheard-of wide-receiver records, but more importantly for his team, he has helped them to their own 5-1 standing. When they hit 5-0 last week it was the first time for Detroit football since 1956.
It’s feasible that Johnson could finish his career among the true greats at his position, among people like Moss, Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens, and with more humility than any of them. Indeed, in a position where divas like Owens, Chad Ochocinco and Brandon Marshall reign, Johnson is accomplishing more than most while saying very little.
The nickname “Megatron”, given to him by one-time mentor and teammate Roy Williams when Williams noticed how enormous Johnson’s hands were, is a one-word encapsulation of the dominance, mass, height and skills that Johnson has.
“Lesser creatures are playthings of my will,” the leader of the Decepticons often told his fellow metallic Transformers. Calvin Johnson could say the same thing about defensive backs that can’t reach him, catch up with him, or outsize him. But he won’t, because in a position where most of his peers are complaining and making outlandish guarantees, Johnson lets his skills on the field speak for him. And right now, they’re screaming.