DETROIT -- Looks can be deceiving.
At first glance, a casual sports fan wouldn’t be hard-pressed to think Calvin Johnson is an active football player.
But for Johnson, 35, those days are completely over.
“I’m too far gone,” Johnson told ESPN, with a laugh. “I want to enjoy my snowboarding and growing great product.”
Megatron still maintains his fit 6-foot-5 frame, which helped him “Moss” too many defenders to name as a member of the Detroit Lions, but now those gray hairs are slowly creeping in.
Along with being a husband and raising three sons, the retired wideout is a businessman, and the "product" the soon-to-be first-ballot Hall of Famer is referring to is cannabis. Johnson launched Primitiv, his new Michigan-based cannabis brand, this past week with his former Lions teammate Rob Sims. He even made a rare appearance for a meet-and-greet at Jars’ River Rouge dispensary Thursday.
They’re hoping to change the narrative with cannabis and athletics. After three-plus years of trial and error, Johnson and Sims were comfortable coming forward with the brand, even as he approaches his Hall of Fame enshrinement on Aug. 7 and potentially attaching a stigma of cannabis around his name.
“That was definitely a thing, but this was something that I believed in,” Johnson said. “I used when I played. Yeah, I had fun with it, but at the same time I knew there was something more to it.”
Pain management is one of the major benefits of marijuana, he said. The same pain that forced him to leave the game at age 30 and break the hearts of many Lions fans when he seemingly had a lot left in the tank.
The business of sports then soured his relationship with the organization, as he was forced to pay back a little more than $1 million to the Lions upon his retirement after the 2015 season. The money was part of the signing bonus he had been given at the start of his last contract.
Johnson told ESPN that he hasn’t been given any of that money back and the Lions have yet to communicate any plans to do so with him, but he describes their relationship, particularly with owner Sheila Ford Hamp, as a “friendly” one.
“As of this year really, I’ve had a couple conversations with Sheila. I’ve got to know her a little bit,” Johnson said. “Just really friendly, getting to know the family, and she said she would send me and my wife some flowers after we had the baby. So, it’s been very friendly. That’s where it’s at really. Just some friendly back and forth.”
The upcoming Hall of Fame induction has somewhat repaired their relationship, but there’s still work to do.
“Obviously, yeah, because there has been noise that there’s been communication, but we’ll see what happens,” Johnson said.
In March, Lions team president and CEO Rod Wood also expressed that the relationship with Johnson “is headed in the right direction.”
“We’re working actively with Calvin and his team on celebrations at the Hall of Fame and continuing to have conversations with them,” Wood said. “I know Calvin’s mentioned publicly that he’s connected with Sheila, and that’s a positive step, so we’ll continue to celebrate with him, and I think the relationship is headed in the right direction.”
After all, Johnson was spectacular during his nine-year career in Motown. He still holds the Lions' franchise records for career receptions (731), receiving yards (11,619) and receiving touchdowns (83). Johnson will be just the third player enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame at age 35 or younger, joining Gale Sayers and Jim Brown.
His impact is still so strong in Detroit that Lions tight ends coach Ben Johnson is pushing current Pro Bowl tight end T.J. Hockenson to study Johnson’s film as he enters Year 3.
“He’s got me watching Calvin Johnson, all those guys,” Hockenson said during Thursday’s OTA. “He’s got me watching [Travis] Kelce, [George] Kittle, [Darren] Waller, just, I mean, everybody you can imagine.
"I mean, I’m watching them, I’m taking notes, I’m trying to be able to implement things in my game. And he just shows me little tidbits, like, ‘Hey, this release point looks good.’ Or, ‘This route looks good and you can do this.’ Different things he thinks I can implement in my game that will help me for years to come.”
Johnson is also keeping his eyes on the Lions' roster. He said he has been in communication with his former teammate Matthew Stafford and feels he will “make something happen” with the Los Angeles Rams, but Johnson is also looking forward to seeing the new-look Detroit team with Jared Goff at quarterback.
“I’m excited. I love Matt, but the change of scenery for both of them was probably best. And to have somebody [Goff] that has led his team to the big game already and is relatively young,” Johnson said. “Then with [head coach] Dan Campbell, a young coach. I played with Dan.
“He was playing with one arm,” Johnson said of Campbell. “But he was still out there starting and playing against beasts out there, but still sustaining. So mad respect to him, and I know the guys are going to respect him. I’ve met [general manager and executive vice president] Brad [Holmes] too. He’s done some good things out there in L.A., so I’m looking forward to see what they do.”
While the Lions are reshaping their culture, Johnson remains committed to his new venture in the cannabis industry and hopes to make a strong impact. He maintains a low-key lifestyle while living in Michigan by keeping a close relationship with his family, which helps him stay humble.
For the past three weeks or so, he’s been working on his Hall of Fame speech, too, with the assistance of his business partner, Dr. Tommy Shavers.
“I can’t let that go to the last minute, like everything else, like when I was in grade school, man. I can’t wait to write this paper at the last minute,” Johnson said with a chuckle. “This year, it’s a little different for the Hall of Fame. They shortened everybody’s speeches. After eight minutes, it’s like the Apollo, they coming out and getting you off the stage. David Baker coming out there to get you.
“So, I’ve got eight minutes.”
Former longtime Georgia Tech team chaplain Derrick Moore will be inducting Johnson into the Hall of Fame, further diminishing any hopes among Lions fans for a potential return to the NFL, even in the slightest way.
“Derrick poured into me so much as a man when I was at Georgia Tech, and I’ll never forget it,” Johnson said. “Those moments that I had there kind of helped propel me, obviously on top of what my parents instilled in me, too, was kind of compounded and led me into being here today.”