Calvin Johnson applauds new catch rule: 'We knew it was a catch from Day 1'

Dave Birkett
Detroit Free Press
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Sept. 13, 2010: The original "Calvin Johnson rule." In the season opener, Calvin Johnson caught what appeared to be the go-ahead touchdown with seconds remaining against the Bears... except he let go of the ball when he rolled over and officials called it an incomplete pass, saying he didn't "complete the process" of the catch. Lions lost, 19-14.

It was Calvin Johnson’s would-be touchdown that started the debate about what is and isn’t a catch eight years ago, and now that the NFL has rewritten a rule that he helped define, Johnson said he’s happy the league is finally using its common sense. 

“Like I say,” Johnson said Saturday at the free football camp he hosts annually in the Detroit area, “it just took them seven years to figure out what we knew on Day 1.”

Johnson helped bring the NFL’s “process of the catch” rule to light on the first Sunday of the 2010 season when he appeared to catch a game-winning touchdown pass from Shaun Hill with 24 seconds to play.

Johnson leaped high over Bears cornerback Zack Bowman in the right corner of the end zone, caught the ball with both hands, landed with one foot on the ground, then the other, but lost control of the ball when his right hand hit the ground and he sprung to his feet in celebration.

The side judge on the field initially signaled touchdown, but officials conferred and ruled that Johnson did not complete the process of the catch.

The call was upheld on replay, and the Lions lost the game, 19-14.

Calvin Johnson dunks the ball over the goal post after his third-quarter touchdown against the Green Bay Packers in Detroit on Nov. 28, 2013.

Since Johnson’s play, several other high-profile catch/no-catch rulings have impacted games.

Former Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant had a big fourth-down conversion overturned on replay in a 2015 playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers. Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jesse James had his would-be go-ahead touchdown ruled incomplete in a crucial late-season loss to the New England Patriots last year. And in the Super Bowl, Corey Clement had a controversial touchdown ruled complete in the third quarter of the Philadelphia Eagles’ eight-point win.

“I think you (have to take the human element) into account,” Johnson said. “Yeah, slow motion can show every bitty frame, but you have to also take into account what actually happened in real time, I feel like. You take it slow mo and that easy catch can turn into, ‘Dang, he bobbled it a little bit.’”

The NFL’s competition committee rewrote the catch rule at commissioner Roger Goodell’s behest this offseason. Johnson was not involved in the discussion, though several other former players were dating back to Johnson's final season of 2015.

The new rule defines a catch as having three parts: Control of the ball, two feet or another body part down, and making or having the ability to make a football move. It eliminates the need to complete the process of catching the ball.

Johnson, who set Lions records with 731 catches, 11,619 yards and 83 receiving touchdowns, joked that he wants a recount of the record book.

“They ought to add it to my stat sheet,” he said. “We knew it was a catch from Day 1.”

Talking Canton

Calvin Johnson speaks at his camp at Southfield high school outside Detroit on Saturday, June 2, 2018.

Johnson said he’s happy that two wide receivers he emulated growing up will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer.

Randy Moss, who ranks fourth in NFL history with 15,292 yards, was elected to the Hall on his first try, while Terrell Owens, the NFL’s second-leading receiver (15,934 yards) got in after a two-year wait.

“T.O. should have been in,” Johnson said. “Randy, of course, Randy is going to go in. T.O., I wanted to be a bruiser like T.O., and then I wanted to go up and make plays like Randy, so it’s like I wanted to be a hybrid. I mean, anybody that came after those guys, of course, if they’re a big guy, they’re going to look at those guys to take some things from their game. That’s what you do. You emulate and try to make it your own. So no doubt, I loved watching both of those guys.”

Johnson, who ranks just 29th on the all-time receiving list, will be eligible for induction in 2021. He said reaching Canton was a goal of his during his playing days, but he hasn’t thought much about it recently.

“Only when people talk about it,” Johnson said. “I mean, you can’t help when people bring it up, but I don’t just sit around and think about it, no.”

Contact Dave Birkett: Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. Download our Lions Xtra app for free on Apple and Android!

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