Calvin Johnson makes it clear: 'I'm not coming back, man'

BIRMINGHAM, Mich. -- Calvin Johnson made it very clear Tuesday evening. He's done playing professional football.

When he was asked about the possibility, the former Detroit Lions receiver laughed hard and even glanced down at one of his mangled fingers before answering.

"I'm not coming back, man," Johnson told ESPN. "Look, man. I got stuff that's going to hurt for the rest of my life. I got a finger that's literally bone-on-bone. This bad boy, it gets smaller. The more and more I do, it grinds bone-on-bone.

"Literally from last year, I went this year to get another X-ray and this is after I retired, I knew it was messed up but I didn't know to what degree because it was hurt."

Johnson said his doctor told him he could either wait another year to see how the finger progresses or he could try a surgery the doctor had performed one other time. Johnson said he'd wait. But it's one of multiple injuries Johnson dealt with that led to his retirement in March at age 30.

There's the ankle injury that kept him from getting on his tip-toes last season and eventually bothered him during his run to the finals of "Dancing with the Stars" this fall. There's a pinched nerve in his shoulder. There are his knees and other fingers that have been beat up as well.

Plus, there's the simple fact that he's just enjoying retirement and has stopped lifting weights -- other than with his partner on "Dancing with the Stars."

"The only thing I miss, but I still get it because I get to hang out with the guys, is the camaraderie," Johnson said. "The guys that I really hung out with, Dom [Raiola], Rob [Sims], Matthew [Stafford], the guys I played with for most of my career, five, six years each, I still hang out with those guys, so it's not that bad.

"The thing I don't miss is waking up in the morning, hurting, the grind of the game. I got chronic stuff that everybody has when they're done playing football for any length of time. So the good thing is I'm able to walk. I feel good. I'm able to spend more time with the fam. I'm able to chill. I don’t have to go out and run three miles every day in practice, you know what I'm saying. Goodness gracious."

Since retirement, Johnson finished third in this fall's "Dancing with the Stars." Now he's planning on relaxing for a few weeks before moving on to his next venture, which will include eventually going back to Georgia Tech to finish his degree in management.

Johnson said his initial plan was to start school this fall, but the opportunity to go on "Dancing with the Stars" came up. He realized it might be an opportunity he wouldn't have again, so he chose to do that.

He's also kept up with football, although his stint on television kept him from watching many Lions games until the past few weeks. But watching football again on Sundays as a spectator is something he thought about since he entered the league as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2007 NFL draft.

Johnson said he's enjoyed watching his former quarterback, Matthew Stafford, "playing his butt off" and he likes seeing Stafford reach the level he's playing at now, both statistically and in his command of the offense.

"Oh man, to watch football now, I've been looking forward to sitting back and watching football ever since I stepped into the league. You lose that," Johnson said. "When I was in college, I used to love to watch football on Sundays. And for nine (years), almost a decade I was away from that.

"To be able to sit back and enjoy the game, sit back and watch guys that you know played and you might have worked with it or you personally know, it's cool, it's awesome to sit back and say I know that guy because you’re more of a fan of that game and that person. But I've only been able to watch the last three or four games."

Johnson said he mostly kept up with the Lions by reading about them and occasional conversations with players. He did see the Pittsburgh Steelers play from time to time, though, because they are often on in Los Angeles. He said a Steelers game was the first game he watched as a fan this season.

When he retired, Johnson held almost every significant Lions receiving record. He finished his career with 731 catches for 11,619 yards and 83 touchdowns. He only reached the playoffs twice, losing in the wild-card round to New Orleans after the 2011 season and Dallas after the 2014 season.

Johnson said his only regret was "not winning the Super Bowl." But he made it clear Tuesday night: Playing football is in his past.