Calvin Johnson Credits Former Rival Defender for Development

Calvin Johnson

Getty Calvin Johnson runs away from Packers defenders in 2013.

Calvin Johnson became one of the greatest wideouts in NFL history, but that might never have been the case if not for a hands-on lesson from a Green Bay Packers rival.

Coming into the league with the Detroit Lions, Johnson learned quickly how he’d have to measure up physically and mentally if he wanted to be a success, and Al Harris taught him that winning lesson. On a recent episode of The DB Room, Johnson told Glover Quin that Harris was inspirational to him in getting over the top in his career.

Johnson said:

“I really felt like he really slapped me straight in a literal sense when I first got to the league. When I got in the league, the Packers had Al Harris. Al wan’t the fastest guy, but Al was very savvy and very aggressive and super physical. Wanted to get his hands on you on every play.”

Johnson also admitted that Harris had a reputation that proceeded him, and learning about Harris came first from teammates, then from experience. That experience ended up being positive for Johnson.

“It didn’t take me playing Green Bay to learn about Al Harris. When we were watching film, I’d hear Roy Williams complaining about Al. ‘Al’s always holding, Al’s always putting his hands in the face.’ I was like ‘dang is he that bad?’ I got a dose of it my first game playing the Packers. I’m thinking ‘Roy’s our No. 1 receiver, he’s their No. 1 cornerback, he’s going to cover Roy the whole game and I don’t have to worry about him.’ Man they had this dude on me the whole game. I really learned from the first play if this is how the NFL is going to be, where I’m getting slapped in my mouth every play, I got a long way to go. It really got my mindset right that you’ve got to be a dog out there. I’ve got to hit you in the mouth first, I’ve got to hit you in your mouth every play. When you play someone like that who’s really in your face, giving it to you every play, you know how that feels going against someone like that and you think ‘OK, that’s how imposing I want to be.'”

In his career, Harris would play a total of 8 seasons for the Packers and crack 2 Pro Bowls in 2007 and 2008, right when Johnson was coming into the league. He’s now the defensive backs coach for the Dallas Cowboys, and Harris broke into coaching right after retiring in 2012 to impart such wisdom to this generation of NFL players.

Johnson would put up 1,409 yards and 15 career scores up against the Packers, but the damage could have been a lot worse if not for the influence of Harris. Then again, Johnson may never have become as good as he was if Harris hadn’t taught him the ropes in such a tough way.

Calvin Johnson Reveals Origins of Megatron Nickname

As it turns out, former Lions teammate Roy Williams played a role in Johnson getting one of the top nicknames in NFL history. According to Johnson on the same episode of The DB Room, the wideout started using the name on the rookie over the summer heading into his first season in the league to tease him and it managed to stick.

Johnson said:

“2007 I think the first Transformers came out. The movie came out that summer, we’re getting ready for the first season. Roy (Williams) just started calling me this ‘Megatron’ or whatever. When I was a kid, I knew Transformers but I wasn’t a fan. Originally I thought Megatron was a good guy. I thought he was Optimus Prime. Then I realized he was the bad guy. I was like alright, it’s cool, I’ll be the bad guy to the defense,” Johnson joked. “He just started calling me that, and it didn’t really catch on until a year later. You’re big and fast, this movie just came out. It’s perfect timing. 2008, that’s when the announcers starting using it.”

Williams departed the scene in Detroit by virtue of a midseason trade in 2008, and the stage was cleared for Johnson to morph into Megatron officially and take over as the top option in Detroit. He did that and then some, putting up insane numbers the rest of the way in his Lions career. More than that, he routinely made highlight reel catches which helped the nickname stick in a huge way

Now, saying ‘Megatron’ in Detroit doesn’t evoke thoughts of a superhero movie at all, but rather an imposing 6-5 wideout that changed the game at his position. For that, Williams deserves plenty of thanks.

Calvin Johnson Lions Statistics

Since he came into the league with the Lions in 2007, Johnson wasted little time putting up great plays and amazing statistics. In his career, Johnson put up 11,619 yards and 83 touchdowns and more than that, was a human highlight reel unlike any other receiver on the list. Out of Georgia Tech, Johnson was labeled as one of the freakiest players in the draft and he lived up to that distinction in the NFL.

Johnson shattered Rice’s record of 1,848 receiving yards during the 2012 season and was a stable force for the team, often playing through pain and discomfort on the field. He walked away following the 2015 season, leaving a gaping hole in Detroit’s wideout group. Since, Johnson has been embroiled in a feud with the Lions for the last few seasons over money that the team made him pay back upon retirement.

The hope is Johnson can make up with the Lions before that time, as he continues to roll in the accolades following his career. There is simply no forgetting how good he was, and those memories continue to linger for everyone who loves the game.

Forever, Johnson will always be Megatron to the fans in Detroit, and a source of pride for all those who watched him perform superhuman acts on the field.

As much as it might pain Lions fans, they probably have to tip their caps to a Packers defender for helping plenty of it be possible.

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