Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit  |  Last updated 3/20/12
ALLEN PARK, Mich. It is hard not to be impressed by Calvin Johnson. Everything about the star wide receiver is big big body, big catches, big smile, big contract. The image Johnson has portrayed to the public on and off the field in his five seasons with the Lions has been that of a superstar performer and consummate professional who is big in every way, with one exception - he has a small ego. The entire package Johnson presents makes him the kind of athlete that fans want to like because of the way he lets his performance do the talking. He is the anti-diva among his eras wide receivers who compete for attention by showboating. Away from the cameras and platitudes routinely heaped on athletes at press conferences - as was the case Wednesday when Johnson signed an eight-year, 132-million contract that gives the Lions his rights through the 2019 season - are some sidelights into Johnson that add another layer to the average fans perspective on the wide out. They should make fans like Johnson even more. What youve seen from Calvin Johnson in a five-year career arc with the Lions, one that has made him the NFLs best wide receiver, isnt all you get. Theres more, and its all good. Any time you can be a part of a contract that gives you the opportunity to have somebody of Calvins makeup be a part of your team for his entire career is really special, Lions president Tom Lewand said. There has never been a ripple of concern on the part of management about Johnsons character or behavior. And in a workplace where employees compete for their piece of the same pie in the case of the NFL, a salary cap that limits teams to spending 120.6 million on player salaries this year there hasnt been a whiff of resentment expressed by Johnsons teammates about his huge contract. Johnson has never set himself apart from his teammates, and he has never been one to go out of his way to broadcast his good deeds or attempt to put himself on a pedestal. He blends in as much as is possible for 6-foot-5 wide receiver who lives up to his nickname of Megatron. At Wednesdays press conference, Johnson talked about the influence his parents, Arica and Calvin Sr., have had on him. Arica has a doctorate and is a school administrator in the Atlantaarea school system. Calvin Sr. is a train conductor. They are the role models who have kept him grounded with his low-key personality and work ethic. Thats just me, Johnson said. You dont change. Thats instilled in me. Seeing them work different jobs, going in to work day in, day out, for unreasonable hours. Calvin and his parents were at their home outside Atlanta on a conference call with Lewand and Johnsons agent, Bus Cook. They were rushing to get the paperwork completed in order to help the Lions with their free-agent negotiations. Bless my mom, Johnson said. My moms everything for me. She takes care of so many things for me when I cant be there. Lions veterans got an insight into Johnsons character early in his career. Jon Kitna was the Lions starting quarterback from 2006 through the early part of 2008, when his stay in Detroit ended because of a back injury. He told a story about Johnson during the 2008 offseason a time when players convene for the offseason workout program. Kitna, 35 at the time, was managing a youth baseball team. Johnson was 22 and going into his second season. Kitna once talked about how Johnson sometimes would help him coach his baseball team. Its not like the two men were ready-made comrades in arms. Kitna had made the NFL as an undrafted rookie out of Central Washington. He was on Seattles practice squad in 1996 and made the 53-man roster the next year. Kitna wound up playing 141 games for the Seahawks, Bengals, Lions and Cowboys before retiring after last season. In 2008, Johnson had played one season on his original six-year rookie contract that paid him more than 27 million in guaranteed money. Dominic Raiola, the Lions starting center and a team leader, told another story about Johnson late in the 2010 season. Raiolas brother, Donovan, played center at Wisconsin but was never drafted by an NFL team. He may have lacked Dominics ability, but Donovan shared his brothers tenacity. After a number of tryouts and stints on practice squads of NFL teams, Donovan Raiola finally made it on the Tampa Bay Bucs roster late in the 2010 season. Coincidentally, Donovans first game with the Bucs was against the Lions in Tampa. During the pre-game warm-ups, Johnson already established as an elite player - jogged over to Donovan to shake hands and congratulate him on making it to the NFL. Johnson did it in his typical style, with no flair or showmanship. Johnson was for his reaction to the NFLs investigation that discovered the New Orleans Saints had a bounty program in which players were paid for knockouts and cart-offs resulting from big hits on opposing players. The Lions played the Saints twice last season, in the regular season and the playoffs. Johnson wasnt fazed by it. In fact, he laughed when he talked about it. I didnt think anything about it when I heard it, he said. Its part of the game. Thats nothing new. It happens. Players call you out.
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