By Matthew Postins
When the Dallas Cowboys and the Detroit Lions played two years ago at AT&T Stadium there was little reason to tout the matchup as a head-to-head showdown between Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant and Lions receiver Calvin Johnson.
Johnson was an elite receiver and in a class nearly all by himself. Bryant wasn’t. Undeniably talented, he was still trying to get his head screwed on straight.
But Sunday at Ford Field in Detroit? Yeah let’s go ahead and hype it up.
Both sides have done just that.
Bryant went on the radio on Monday and pointed out the fact that he felt he’s caught up with Johnson. Or at least that’s what it sounded like.
“Truth be told, I don’t compare myself to nobody,” Bryant said on 103.3 FM ESPN in Dallas. “I think Calvin’s the best at what he [does]. I think I’m the best at what I do.”
Bryant went on to say that he can do whatever Johnson can do. Of course, there’s a level of absurdity to Bryant’s quotes. After all, the pair does practically the same thing.
But that got everyone talking. Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones actually conceded that Johnson was the better receiver right now and that Bryant should aspire to that.
Once the rest of the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions started talking later in the week it went back and forth.
The Cowboys, naturally, expressed their admiration for Johnson but, at the end of the day, said they would take Bryant in their offense.
“We’re not really comparing guys like that,” Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said. “We love what Dez does for our football team and we just want him to get better every week.”
Up in Detroit, Johnson’s teammates were using a variation of “We know Calvin Johnson and you, sir, are no Calvin Johnson” when asked about Bryant’s comments.
“He’s not Calvin Johnson. No way, no how. Sorry, Dez. Keep it real,” Lions receiver Nate Burleson said.
Johnson, talking to the Dallas media on Wednesday, couldn’t resist taking a back-handed dig at Bryant, either.
“I saw him a little at Oklahoma State,” Johnson said. “He’s a big playmaker, he’s physical, he’s strong. Those are his strengths. He goes up and catches the ball well. Besides route running he’s a great all-around receiver.”
Of course, Bryant became “unhappy” with how his comments on the radio, the comments that started it all, were portrayed by us in the notebook brigade and voiced that displeasure with the Detroit media corps during a Wednesday phone call.
“I wasn’t comparing myself at all,” Bryant said. “I think a lot of people took it the wrong way, because clearly I said there’s no comparison. That’s something I do not do. I don’t compare myself with anybody. When you get to comparing yourself with others, that’s when you start to have a downfall.”
So there you have it. Controversy in the 21st Century.
So Bryant believes he can do anything Johnson can do? Well, we can quibble about certain things – that route running for instance, though Bryant has improved – but at the end of the day when you look at the pair, you see similar receivers.
Johnson is taller. He’s 6-foot-5 and Bryant is 6-foot-2. So Johnson is a more imposing target. But Bryant seems stronger in the upper body and is definitely a little faster, especially when it comes to getting downfield. Both control their bodies well and have great hands, though Bryant has a few more drops.
What we’re saying is that there’s little to quibble with. What truly sets Johnson apart is track record. He’s been an All-Pro, a Pro Bowler, a playoff starter and he has four 1,000-yard seasons. Of course, he has three years on Bryant, so there’s plenty of time for the fourth-year pro to catch up.
What we should be embracing – and what we are embracing to some degree – is this incredible matchup between two of the game’s best receivers. Not some insipid controversy over statements that, to some degree, are accurate.
The hegemony of the NFL has caused us to overreact to these kinds of statements. Coaches like Bill Belichick have largely stamped them out, and that strategy has permeated throughout the league as a way to avoid the bulletin board material that was so happily spread around in the 1980s and 1990s.
I mean, this is the same organization where Jimmy Johnson once went on the radio and guaranteed a win in the NFC Championship Game. Now that was controversial.
This? This has been a pleasant diversion.
Now let’s play some football.