Former Detroit Lions center Dominic Raiola was worried now. It had been 20 minutes since the laughing and frolicking of jet skiing teammate Calvin Johnson stopped on the calm waters of Union Lake.
Raiola owns a home on the lake in the lakes area of West Bloomfield and Waterford and Johnson was a frequent visitor who loved quiet rides on a boat or an afternoon of jet skiing or water skiing.
If something happened to Johnson how would Raiola explain this to the Lions or the world?
He searched the waters as he guided his boat to shore. Then he heard a familiar laugh and out of the corner of his eye he saw Johnson at a neighbors house. Dom felt instant relief.
Johnson decided to take a break from the waters. He visited one of Raiola’s neighbors, bought them pizza, and enjoyed a few slices with them.
“That’s the kind of guy Calvin is,” Raiola said. “He can get along with anybody.”
It didn’t matter to Johnson that these were strangers twice as old as him. He made these peoples’ afternoon. How often does someone like Calvin Johnson drop by for delivery and drinks?
We all know by now that Johnson is a Hall of Fame football player. He got the call this weekend to join a star-studded class that includes Peyton Manning and Charles Woodson. But you must also know that Johnson is a Hall of Fame person too.
He is quiet, accommodating and friendly.
It was the summer of 2007 when Detroit Lions media relations people whispered to broadcasters and reporters at the team practice fields in Allen Park.
Rookie receiver Calvin Johnson would be made available to talk to reporters after a brief hold out. I’d never seen Johnson in the flesh before. So I thought the Lions made a mistake and sent over a young defensive end when I walked over to the podium. He was tall (6-foot-5), chiseled (237 pounds) and muscular.
No way this guy played wide receiver. It was a defensive end that needed to pack on a few more pounds.
Former receiver Herman Moore had set the standard previously for Lions wide receivers. But he warned before Johnson ever took the field that this guy was bigger, stronger, faster and more talented.
He proved to be right. Johnson received the Hall of Fame call over the weekend, something he deserves as the best receiver of his time and the best in Lions history. His play proved breath taking, the way he attacked the ball in the air and brought it in to his chest.
Johnson was one of those rare receivers where he was open even though he was triple teamed. If quarterback Matthew Stafford could place the ball high enough no one but Johnson was catching the ball.
In nine seasons with the Lions he caught 731 passes for 11,619 yards and 83 touchdowns. Johnson was a gentle giant, very polite and very accommodating. However, Johnson grew frustrated about playing for the Lions. His fingers were mangled, casualties of playing a brutal game. His body ached. And he wondered if it were worth playing for a team if he had no shot at winning a championship.
Like Barry Sanders, he began to whisper to teammates that he considered retiring in his prime. Like Sanders, teammates did not believe him. And like Sanders he walked away with so much to give.
And like Sanders the Lions demanded that he pay back a portion of his bonus money. It has turned into a public relations night mare. Was it really worth the $1.25 million for an organization worth more than $1 billion?
At least the two sides are talking now. The mistake the Lions made with Sanders and Johnson is they treated them like employees instead of partners. Tom Brady was a partner with the New England Patriots. Drew Brees was a partner with the New Orleans Saints. Magic Johnson, LeBron James and Michael Jordan were partners with the teams they played on.
The Lions must employ the same mentality with their future super stars.
That final season I talked to Johnson about his frustrations. Sometimes after practice Johnson hopped in his car and drove long distances west on I-94 to the Michigan-Indiana border, turned back around, before heading home.
There was a spot on I-94, somewhere between Kalamazoo and Battle Creek where a dip in the road allowed Johnson to see the entire landscape and spot any hidden police cars. He’d floor it for fun and to ease pent up frustrations. I pressed him a couple times about how fast he drove, but he refused to give me the information.
Instead he chuckled.
“Do you want the police knowing,” he said. “They will be on the look out for me.”
He never got caught on the football field or the freeway.
Johnson also claimed he made a mean fish taco. It was his signature dish.
I’m sure if you asked politely, he’d make one for you.Find Terry Foster Podcast here: