Bring this question to cornerbacks around the NFL: Who's the toughest matchup in the game?
You'll hear a few prominent names -- DeAndre Hopkins, Michael Thomas, Julio Jones -- but you won't get a consensus. That's what separates Calvin Johnson. During his prime, there wasn't a discussion.
Now flip that question on its head. Who was the toughest matchup for Johnson?
Johnson nodded and and smiled.
"Unfortunately I didn’t have a long time to compete with this guy, but I really felt like he slapped me straight, in a literal sense. When I first got to the league, the Green Bay Packers had Al Harris," Johnson said. "Al Harris wasn’t the fastest guy, but Al was very savvy and very aggressive and super physical. He wanted to get his hands on you on every play."
Johnson said he knew about Harris' reputation before he lined up against him.
"Because whenever we were watching film I would hear Roy Williams complaining about Al: 'Al always holding, Al always putting his hands in your face.' I’m like, 'Dang, is he that bad?'" Johnson said. "I got a dose of it my first game playing the Packers. I’m thinking, 'Okay, Roy’s the No. 1 receiver, he’s the No. 1 corner, he’s gonna cover Roy the whole game. I ain't gotta worry about him.' Man, they had this dude on me the whole game."
The rookie managed seven catches for 83 yards and a touchdown, but not without taking his lumps.
"I really learned from the first play, if this is how the NFL is gonna be, where I’m getting slapped in my mouth every play, okay, I got a long way to go," Johnson said. "It really got my mindset to the point where it’s like, I gotta be a dog out here. I gotta hit you in the mouth first and I gotta hit you in the mouth every play. You can’t let up. You hear that from your coaches, but when you play someone like that who’s really in your face giving it to you every play, you're like, okay, that’s how imposing I want to be against anyone I play."
Enter Megatron. By the time he walked away from the NFL nine years later, he had established himself as one of the greatest receivers ever. While Johnson's retirement surprised many, he told Quin he almost called it quits the year before.
"I told my dad after my eighth year, I was like, 'Hey, I’m hanging them up, I'm done. I can’t do it. I can’t dig out of my stance, I can’t get it, I can’t hit that next gear like I need to anymore.' And he was like, 'You think you can do it one more time?' There was literally a little pause and during that pause he was, like, 'Yep, you can do it one more time.' And I was like, 'Alright, you’re right. I can put up with it one more time.' So I went back for that last year."
And so Johnson wreaked havoc on defenses one more season, catching 88 passes for 1,214 yards and nine touchdowns. All told: 731 catches, 11,619 yards, 83 touchdowns. Not bad for a kid who was nicknamed 'Butterfingers' in high school.
"It wasn’t always pretty," Johnson said. "I was like an ugly duckling at first. Once I got to high school I transferred over to receiver (from running back), and I couldn’t catch a lick. They used to call me ‘Butterfingers' and everything. It was all bad. But I was built like a receiver, so I was like, if I’m gonna play football, I’m gonna be a receiver. Unless I go play safety, and I don’t want to play defense. I want to catch the ball."
Good thing he stuck with it.
But Quinn did speak on the matter himself.
"You’re a legend, a future Hall of Famer. I can’t wait till you get that call. I know you said it may not come on the first ballot because you didn’t play as long, but I think the work of art you made in your nine years, you’re definitely deserving of a first-ballot Hall of Famer. And I will say this right here, man. I don’t even want you to comment on it, I'm just going to speak on it. I do feel like Detroit owes you more appreciation for what you did for that organization. Just putting them on the map, bro. People tuned into watch the Detroit Lions because of Megatron, man."