Given the talent and level of play on the field across the league, it isn’t that rare to see a true clash of the titans positionally in the NFL. Back in 2012, Detroit Lions fans were treated to such an event.
Before the Seattle Seahawks became the decorated winners everybody knows them as now, the team was forging their way and traveled to play the Lions at Ford Field in 2012. That game would be a coming out party for Richard Sherman, one of the best players to ever do it on defense.
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Sherman, a cornerback, was charged with going up against and shutting down Calvin Johnson, who was in his prime at the time. It was the first time the sides would do battle in the league, and it was an eye-opener for Sherman, even as before the game, he famously boasted he would become Optimus Prime to foil the great Megatron.
On The Richard Sherman Podcast from Pro Football Focus, the former cornerback was showing off his jersey collection and had Johnson’s threads featured. He took fans back in time as to what it was like to prepare for and play against the imposing Johnson. As he explained, going up against Johnson was a challenge unlike any other in the league. As a result, it left Johnson as one of the best Sherman ever competed against.
“Honestly, arguably the best player I’ve ever played against or ever lined up against” Sherman said. “Your hands are beyond full the entire game when dealing with him because not only can he give you a long day and score points and do all that, but it might likely be an embarrassing play that’s gonna live on the internet forever because he’s 6’5 and change, 230 and some change running 4.2, 4.3. These sound like video game numbers and it’s like ‘oh look at that’ but to have to guard that human being and then to say ‘hey, they’re they’re going to throw it up and usually people triple-team he and he still makes the catch, but we’re just going to have you guard him. We’re just going to have you guard him and then and then we’ll deal with everybody else.'”
Ironically, the jersey Sherman was featuring on the show was not from that first 2012 contest, but the infamous 2015 game on Monday Night Football in Seattle when Johnson appeared to be cruising in for a late score before the ball was punched from his grasp by safety Kam Chancellor and batted out of the end zone by K.J. Wright leading to a controversial Detroit loss. In typical Sherman fashion, he was demure about the ending.
“That’s what you’re supposed to do, okay. Forget. You’re supposed to forget things like that,” Sherman joked on the show about the way the 2015 game played out. “The game was won. It was in hand…that jersey’s from that game where (Kam Chancellor) punched it out.”
As for the previous 2012 game itself, Sherman and company did a number on Johnson that day as well, holding the wideout to just 3 receptions and 46 yards and no touchdown. To that end, he was indeed Optimus Prime. In his career, Johnson didn’t enjoy much success against Seattle with just 129 yards and no touchdowns. A big reason why that was the case? Sherman and his teammates.
Johnson Also Payed Twitter Respect to Sherman
With this in mind, it was obvious that real would always recognizes real. It’s obvious what a solid relationship Johnson and Sherman share on the field and off the field. After Sherman paid respects to Johnson verbally, the wideout turned around and did the exact same thing with a tweet. Johnson saw Sherman’s words and immediately hit him back on Twitter with a mutual sign of respect.
On the podcast, Sherman paid a final tribute to Johnson. As he said, it was a pleasure getting to go up against a player that challenged him in so many ways. The respect he had for Johnson was very evident in his words as well as interactions.
“Appreciate you Megatron. It was great competing against you,” Sherman said on the show.
That’s a sentiment that is no doubt shared by Johnson as well as his tweet of respect shows.
2012 Lions vs. Seahawks Was Memorable Contest
As for the first game where the duo battled itself, it’s well worth another look. Few people may remember how good it was amid Detroit’s tough season and given how much time has passed. The Lions were 2-4 entering the game and needed it to claw back in the early part of the season. Seattle, meanwhile, was just starting off what would be an epic run that would last for about a decade and culminate in a Super Bowl title, another Super Bowl appearance well as multiple NFC West titles and trips to the NFC Championship.
The Lions got the last laugh on the Seahawks that day, winning by a score of 28-24 even as Johnson didn’t have his greatest output. That had plenty to do with the defense of Sherman and company. It would be the last win Johnson would have against Seattle, and represents Detroit’s most recent win over the Seahawks. Johnson and the Lions lost in 2015 and once again in the 2017 playoffs. After Johnson’s retirement, Seattle has won another pair of games in the series, claiming victory in 2018 and again in 2022.
While Johnson and Sherman might be ancient history on the field now, those who watched them compete will never forget their greatness. Neither, it appears, will either competitor.