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Beyond the Flats: Missed Opportunity

Calvin Johnson deserved better.

Miami v Georgia Tech Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images

In this weekly feature, we’ll take a look at what Tech’s finest are up to since leaving the Institute. This week, we focus on the missed opportunity of the 2021 season.

Since the start of the season, I was saving the final week of this column for Calvin Johnson. He is the greatest player our program has produced, living up to the hype from his very first game on the Flats. He won the prestigious Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s best receiver, was named an All-American, and then laid down a Hall of Fame NFL career in 9 of the most consistent years ever played by an NFL wide receiver. He showed loyalty to Tech, loyalty to the Lions, and loyalty to himself and his family at every turn.

Going into 2021, we all saw the branding and onus being put on the hallowed #21. Freshman receiver James BlackStrain Leo Blackburn (Ed. Note: This article mistakenly had James BlackStrain listed as No. 21) was heralded as a second coming (or third, see: Demaryius Thomas), and was rewarded with the #21 jersey. We perhaps should have seen the early signals that this season would not play out as hoped, as BlackStrain Blackburn suffered a season-ending injury before the season and has been in street clothes for every game of 2021. But injuries happen, and this team was built to overcome them, we all felt.

Still, 2021 held immense promise. The team seemed to be putting it together, turning a corner and rounding into the form we’ve been promised since late 2018 when Collins arrived back on campus. Instead, we were treated to an opening game where the number 21 was yet again a harbinger of things to come. Georgia Tech: 21, NIU: 22.

This season has not gone as we all hoped. The team was “so so close” in a number of games, but nowhere close in far too many others. Many have continued to trumpet the process and progress of the current regime. Show up for your team and support them no matter what! To that I say, no. I will support my team, follow my team, cheer for my team until the end of times. But I will also demand better when that is what is needed. To expect the same level of support when the product has so clearly regressed, when such blind support would threaten my sanity, is a bridge too far. A microcosm of this: Calvin repping two other schools in ‘21, his ‘Golden Year’ so to speak (CJ has a connection to both schools: his wife is a Michigan State graduate, and Derrick Moore, longtime chaplain for GT Football, now works for the Gamecocks and hosted Johnson in Columbia).

Now, before jumping on Megatron for becoming a turncoat in this his ‘Golden Year’, consider the sustained mediocrity he suffered during his football career. Over 12 years of college and professional football, his teams’ records were as follow: 7-5, 7-5, 9-5, 7-9, 0-16, 2-14, 6-10, 10-6, 4-12, 7-9, 11-5, 7-9. That’s right. Over his Biletnikoff-winning, All-American, 6x Pro Bowl and 3x All-Pro career, Johnson went 77-105, a 0.42 career win percentage. At this point, he has earned the right to follow whoever he darn well pleases, and he more than deserves to be associated with a winner. If you don’t see it, you don’t want to see it.

2021 was a chance to turn the page of Georgia Tech Football and honor a true Legend of the Flats with exemplary play on the field. Calvin Johnson undoubtedly loves Georgia Tech, and would have been proud to represent and unite the Institute as it battled for an ACC football title. Instead, Georgia Tech is suffering through yet another 3-win season, our fanbase is splintering, and yet another opportunity for progress has passed by the wayside as one of our greats dons other colors. Calvin no longer wanted to be the face for a low-to-middling team with little more than coach speak to stand on. I personally do not blame him, he absolutely deserves better.