Lakshman: Megatron and me

Feb. 2, 2016, 12:41 a.m.

If I had a time machine that granted me the ability to go back to any year of my childhood, I would — without hesitation — go back to 2004, the year I distinctly remember falling in love with football.

First, there was Madden 2004 and cover boy Michael Vick, the most unstoppable digital force ever created. If I had to define the essence of pure bliss, it would be spending hours upon hours of running circles around helpless virtual NFL defenses.

But as exhilarating as it was to blow by imaginary tacklers with Madden Michael Vick, there was another, more freakish force of nature that captured my fascination with the game that summer — one that existed not in bits and bytes but in real flesh and blood. A freshman wide receiver at Georgia Tech by the name of Calvin Johnson.

I don’t think I missed a single Saturday of Georgia Tech football that season. And it was all on account of Johnson and the unparalleled combination of unhindered enjoyment and sheer disbelief in watching a 6-foot-5, 240-pound receiver rip the top off of defenses and catch literally everything in sight.

Before there was Odell Beckham versus the Cowboys or even Devon Cajuste versus Oregon, there was a 19-year-old Johnson snagging a Reggie Ball pass thrown 3 feet behind him with just the base of his palm. It very well could be the best catch I have ever seen in a football game, a moment so awe-striking, so deeply influential in cementing my passion for football that I would go back in time just for that alone.

If there were any lingering doubts in my mind over what Calvin Johnson has meant to me as a football fan, they were quickly dispelled earlier this week when reports surfaced indicating that Megatron had decided to hang up the cleats. In an instant, those memories of the 2004 Yellow Jackets, a 7-5, otherwise unremarkable team, quickly flooded back.

If the reports are true — if Johnson truly intends to walk away from the game at age 30 after another 1200-yard receiving season, then this will mark the end of a very special era of my life. And, more importantly, it would be a commendable decision, one that could alter the very lens through which we admire, and ultimately judge, superstar athletes.

As word of Johnson’s impending retirement began to spread, I was struck by the overwhelming amount of chatter I heard amongst both friends and writers from all corners of the Internet, lamenting the fact that Johnson never fully lived up to this potential, regretting that he will leave the NFL having never won a playoff game, even criticizing the Lions’ star for cashing in the chips when he apparently had years left in the tank.

If this really is the end for Megatron (and I’m not entirely convinced that he won’t return to the field at some point down the road) then maybe it is true that he didn’t completely maximize his supernatural abilities on the football field. At one point, we expected him to not only surpass Jerry Rice’s career receiving records but completely obliterate them in the process.

However, how much do these records really matter? Why do we place so much stock in career longevity, postseason success and statistical accolades in a sport as violent and team-dependent as football, where none of those things are completely under the control of the individual player? Why can’t we instead appreciate the fact that Calvin could do things on the gridiron that, quite frankly, most wouldn’t think possible? In walking away from the game at age 30, in the same vein as Patrick Willis and even fellow Lion Barry Sanders before that, Johnson can teach us all a valuable lesson in redefining what it means to be a superstar athlete in football.

In daring to suggest that preserving one’s health after a decade of playing a brutal sport might be more important than hanging on for as long as possible in the hopes of chasing arbitrary and often contrived records, maybe Calvin Johnson has shown has that the true definition of a superstar lies not in the final tally, but in the art, the excitement and the beauty of how those tallies were notched.

Whether this is truly the end or not, Megatron has shown us all that the football life is ultimately ephemeral, but that may not be such a detriment to the game. Instead, it should give us an opportunity to savor these special moments, to make the time to truly appreciate the heroes behind the face masks that make this game so special.


Vihan Lakshman wins for least inspired use of a time machine. To ridicule him for his poor decisions, contact him at vihan ‘at’

Vihan Lakshman's journey at The Stanford Daily came full-circle as he began his career as a football beat writer and now closes his time on The Farm in the same role. In between, he has served as an Opinions columnist and desk editor, a beat writer for Stanford baseball, and as a member of The Daily's Editorial Board. Vihan completed his undergraduate degree in Mathematical and Computational Science in 2016, and is currently pursuing a master's in Computational Mathematics. He also worked as a color commentator on KZSU football broadcasts during the 2015 season. To contact him, please send an email to vihan 'at'

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