Calvin Johnson knew long before anyone else that the 2015 season was going to be his last. Johnson, a six-time Pro Bowler, three-time All-Pro and member of the NFL's 2010s All-Decade Team, was actually planning on calling it a career after the 2014 season.
Johnson, who spent his entire nine-year career with the Detroit Lions, went to Georgia that offseason to share his plans with his father. Sitting on his father's couch, Johnson, who was just 29 years old at the time, laid out the reasons why he felt that it was time to walk away from the game.
"I was like, 'Man, dad, I'm done. I can't do it no more,'" Johnson recalled during his recent appearance on the new episode of "All the Smoke'' with Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson available to watch on Showtime Basketball YouTube.
"They're blowing up the team. My body is aching. I don't have my range of motion like I use to. I can't get out, I can't dig like I used to. I just don't feel it. I just don't have the love for it because I was just always hurting. I just don't have it."
Johnson's father, using just a few words, convinced his son to delay retirement for a little bit longer.
"He looked at me and was like,' You think you can do it one more time?' Johnson recalled. "I sat there and paused for a second, and once I paused for a second he was like, 'Alright, you can at least do it one more time.'"
With that, Johnson returned for what would the final season of a career that will almost surely end up being on display in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (Johnson is eligible for the first time in 2021). During his final season, the man known during his playing days as Megatron was selected to his sixth consecutive Pro Bowl after catching 88 passes for 1,214 yards and nine touchdowns. He retired as the franchise all-time leader with 731 receptions for 11,619 yards and 83 touchdowns. Johnson, who led the NFL in receiving twice, amassed an NFL single season record 1,964 receiving yards in 2012.
Johnson, who retired at age 30, joined Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders as Lions icons who walked away from the game still in their prime. Like Sanders, the lack of team success contributed to Johnson's decision to walk away when he did. During his nine years in Detroit, Johnson, who was part of the Lions' 2008 team that went 0-16, played on just two winning teams. Those teams clinched playoff berths before suffering first-round exists.
"It was unfortunate," Johnson said. "You can't help but have the feeling like we obviously didn't maximize the talent that we had. And all anybody can do is point at themselves and say, 'What could I have done better?' I could have had, maybe, 2,000 yards or 1,500 yards one year, and that could have helped. Or maybe there was a ball that I could have, should have, caught.
"Just the simple fact that we didn't maximize the talent. You got me on offense, you've got [Matt] Stafford, you got Ndamukong Suh on defense. You've got some beasts all around the team in key positions that you should be able to have a winning team. We just didn't have the winning culture though. There's a lot more than goes into it than having those key players."
Johnson said that, had he had the option to play for a contender, he may have continued playing beyond the 2015 season. In fact, Johnson said that Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers often lobbied for him to swap his Lions blue for Packers green when the division foes played each other.
"Whenever we played Green Bay, whenever Aaron Rodgers was over on our sideline, he would say, 'Hey man, you need to come on over here,'" Johnson recalled. "I said, 'Hey, I wish I could.'"
Johnson has had a tumultuous relationship with the team after the Lions forced him to pay back a portion of his signing bonus from the eight-year extension he signed in 2012.
"That's the reason for the rift between the team and I," Johnson said. "I had to pay some money back. The reason I don't have any involvement with them is because of that. You can't make me pay money back and then still want me to come around. It doesn't work like that."
While his relationship with his former team could be better, Johnson, now 35, appears to be a man at peace with his career. Johnson, a father of two young children, said that he is keeping himself busy in retirement.
"It happened so fast," Johnson said of his career. "When you just try to live in the moment, time flies. I just try to still be the best version of myself, and perfect any task that I'm focused on. That's just the principle of how I've been living."