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Johnson morphs into national headliner for Lions

The Sports Xchange
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For a shy, humble guy, receiver Calvin Johnson has turned into quite the media darling lately. From the covers of Madden and ESPN the Magazine, to Sports Illustrated and, last week, a featured segment on ESPN's E60 program, he's been everywhere. Still, Johnson didn't let the cameras in too deep. One of the rare revelations was that he earned the nickname "Butterfingers" when he first converted from running back to receiver.

"When I had my growth spurt and got to high school, they moved me over to receiver, but I hit my growth spurt so fast I don't think I was used to my body, so I was dropping balls left and right; they called me 'butterfingers,'" he said.

--Speaking of sudden media darlings, former Lions great Barry Sanders, as famous for his reticence as he was for his running, has also raised his media profile of late. There is was in Bristol, Conn., last week running the gauntlet of ESPN shows. He said, shockingly, he thinks the Lions will reach the playoffs again this season. "I know we should be a playoff team again," Sanders said on SportsCenter Tuesday. "Super Bowl-wise, I hope so. I would think that they would probably have to shore up the running game, but we are excited about what they've done the last couple years." He was asked the obligatory question if he could suit up at age 44 and help the Lions' sagging run game. "I don't know if I could do much more than that, but I could suit up," he said.

--Quarterback Matthew Stafford admitted he was scared Saturday after his left hand was smashed by the facemask of Raiders defensive end Dave Tollefson. The hand started to swell immediately and didn't stop. Stafford said it looked like a balloon. "It was kind of scaring me," he said. "I didn't know what it was. At some point, I don't know if I cracked it or did something. I've just never seen it swell like that before, so I was kind of pissed because I thought maybe I'd broken it or something. But then it started feeling a little bit better." It was a broken blood vessel and had it been a regular season game, he would have gone back in.

--Left tackle Jeff Backus knows the end is near, but nothing's ending right now. He will turn 35 next month and he's training his replacement, rookie Riley Reiff, but when they put the pads on for Week 1, Backus will make his 177th straight start for the Lions. "I knew this time in my career was going to happen, especially after they drafted Riley, that the Lions would be planning for the future," Backus told the Free Press. "But I'm not going to sit here with a poor attitude about it. I'll do what I can to help this team, and that's get myself ready to play, help Riley and all the other young tackles get ready to play, including the rest of the offensive line, control my effort and control my attitude and that's to be positive."

--General manager Martin Mayhew will be burning up the phone lines in the next week or so. Not only does he have his antennae up for defensive backs, he's also calling around for running backs. With Jahvid Best starting the season on PUP and Mikel Leshoure suspended for the first two games, the Lions will start the season with Kevin Smith, Keiland Williams and Joique Bell as the top three backs. Smith suffered a minor ankle injury Saturday and won't play in the exhibition finale.

BY THE NUMBERS
6 -- The number of teams since 2002 that have made the playoffs once and then fell off the grid -- Tampa Bay, Washington, Kansas City, Jacksonville, St. Louis and Oakland. The Lions are trying to avoid that fate.

QUOTE TO NOTE
"You win more games. That's what quarterbacks are ultimately judged on. If I throw for 5,000 yards and we don't make the playoffs, I didn't have a better year. If I throw for 3,000 yards but we win more games and go to the Super Bowl, then I've had a better year." -- Quarterback Matthew Stafford on what he plans for an encore in 2012

Copyright (C) 2012 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.

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