Calvin Johnson thanks Detroit Lions fans in Hall of Fame speech: ‘You loved me and my family’

Detroit Free Press

Calvin Johnson used his induction speech for the Pro Football Hall of Fame to tout the benefits of plant-based medicine and thanked Detroit Lions fans for supporting him throughout his legendary career.

Johnson joined Jim Brown and Gale Sayers as the only players to be inducted into the Hall of Fame before turning 36. He spoke for 10½ minutes Sunday, his voice cracking with emotion at times, and mentioned his old team twice by name.

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“Lions fans and city of Detroit, when we were 0-16 you never stopped showing up,” Johnson said. “You were disappointed, but you never stopped showing up. Every week, you showed up. And this motivated me to do the same thing for you. You loved me and my family unconditionally over these 15 years. I want you to know Michigan is our home, Detroit is our city and Lions fans are our pride.”

Johnson, who still makes his home in suburban Detroit, has been at odds with the Lions since his retirement following the 2015 season, when the team forced him to repay $1.6 million of his signing bonus for the unfulfilled years on his contract.

Johnson has rebuffed offers to rejoin the organization as a paid ambassador, but his rift with the franchise was evident Sunday only in the absence of his words.

Lions owner Sheila Ford Hamp, her husband Steve Hamp, former Lions general manager Martin Mayhew, ex-coaches Jim Schwartz and Jim Caldwell, and many of Johnson’s former teammates — including Matthew Stafford, Dominic Raiola and Rob Sims — were among those in attendance at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium for his speech.

At one point, Johnson asked all his former coaches and teammates to stand and be recognized.

“I just want you to know I valued every moment I spent with you, on the field, in the locker room and with our families,” Johnson said. “These relationships and friendships will last a lifetime. And I want you to know they’ve helped carry me to this moment right here. I’m thankful — thankful for each and every one of you. Love you.”

Johnson, who also thanked his family, several ex-coaches and the performance team that helped get him ready to play NFL games by name, became the seventh wide receiver elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, joining Randy Moss, Jerry Rice, Steve Largent, Paul Warfield, Lance Alworth and Raymond Berry.

He played nine NFL seasons and retired as the Lions’ all-time leader in receptions (731), receiving yards (11,619) and touchdown catches (83). A three-time first-team All-Pro and six-time Pro Bowler, he set the NFL single-season record with 1,964 yards receiving in 2012.

Johnson opened his speech by noting the back injury he suffered as a rookie in 2007, an injury that he said left him temporarily without feeling in his legs and thinking briefly his career might be over.

Johnson said he played through physical and mental pain for most of the rest of his career, and that experience led him to launch his own cannabis business, Primitiv, with his former teammate Sims in retirement.

[ Meet all 22 Detroit Lions in the Pro Football Hall of Fame ]

“My legacy in sports has been solidified with no greater honor than standing before you today amongst these gentlemen,” Johnson said. “But my life’s legacy is still being written. My journey through life and sports has led me to a point of pursuing a new legacy. For me, that legacy is improving quality of life for athletes and others. For those who are out there suffering in silence and living in pain, for those who feel like there’s no hope for better days, with my partnerships I’m committed to helping people elevate their wellness.”

Former Michigan standout Charles Woodson, five-time MVP quarterback Peyton Manning, safety John Lynch, offensive lineman Alan Faneca, scout Bill Nunn, coach Tom Flores and receiver Drew Pearson also were enshrined as members of the 2021 Hall of Fame class.

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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