Calvin Johnson’s First Nickname Was a Lot Less Cool Than Megatron

Calvin Johnson routinely matched up against opponents’ best cornerbacks during a brilliant NFL career with the Detroit Lions. This week, Johnson finds himself matched up against equally accomplished peers as they await possible election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

Fellow finalists and receivers Reggie Wayne and Torry Holt may have made more receptions, but neither had a nickname comparable to Johnson’s Megatron moniker. Humorously, Johnson was tagged with a far less flattering nickname in high school.

The Detroit Lions grabbed Calvin Johnson in 2007

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The 2007 NFL draft is often recalled for its No. 1 overall pick because JaMarcus Russell established himself as an all-time bust in near-record time. The man selected second also defined his legacy quickly: Defensive coordinators realized immediately that containing Calvin Johnson would be a nightmarish assignment.

The 2007 Detroit Lions were stacked at wide receiver with Shaun McDonald, Roy Williams, and Mike Furrey combining for 204 receptions and 12 touchdowns with Jon Kitna doing the slinging. Still, Johnson made his presence felt as a rookie. With his 6-foot-5 and 235-pound frame, Johnson made 48 catches for a team-best 15.8 yards a pop. The former Georgia Tech standout kicked into another gear in Year 2 with 78 catches, leading all NFL receivers with 12 touchdowns.

Johnson’s best two-season stretch began in 2011 with 96 catches for 1,681 yards and 16 scores. In 2012, he set a still-standing NFL record for yardage as Megatron made 122 grabs for 1,964 yards. That easily eclipsed the mark of 1,848 yards by Jerry Rice in 1995.

Even as the Lions logged a modest 45-51 record, Johnson went over 1,000 receiving yards six straight years beginning in 2010 before retiring at the end of the 2015 season.

Calvin Johnson’s numbers are worthy of the Hall of Fame

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Although Calvin Johnson shocked the Detroit Lions and the league by retiring at the age of 30 after just nine seasons, there was little left for the three-time first-team All-Pro receiver to accomplish.

Megatron’s final numbers included 731 catches for 11,619 yards. He also caught 83 touchdown passes in 135 games. The numbers will inevitably lead to enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but Johnson is up against stiff competition on the final 2021 ballot.

Quarterback Peyton Manning, guard Alan Faneca, and defensive back Charles Woodson are regarded as highly likely to win selection from a 15-player ballot that also includes the likes of Jared Allen, Tony Boselli, John Lynch, and Sam Mills. It’s unlikely that more than one receiver will be able to make the final cut, so Johnson is probably battling Reggie Wayne and Torry Holt.

Playing his entire 15-year career with the Indianapolis Colts, Wayne finished with 1,070 catches for 14.,345 yards and 82 touchdowns. He had four 100-catch years and earned first-team All-Pro recognition in 2010.

Holt played 10 of his 11 seasons with the St. Louis Rams and finished with 920 receptions, 13,382 yards, and 74 TDs in 173 games. He was first-team All-Pro in 2003.

Megatron wasn’t the star receiver’s first nickname

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Detroit Lions teammate Roy Williams bestowed the Transformers-inspired Megatron nickname upon Calvin Johnson as a reflection of the receiver’s big hands and imposing size.

That’s distinctly different from Johnson’s high school nickname after he moved from running back to wideout: Butterfingers. 

“It wasn’t always pretty,” Johnson told WXYT-FM in Detroit. “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.’”

Consider it mission accomplished.

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