Calvin Johnson and the TD-catch ruling vs. the Bears that sucked the life out of the NFL

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Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson comes down with what appears to be the go-ahead touchdown catch with less than a minute left in a 2010 game after beating Bears defender Zack Bowman. The play was ruled no touchdown. (Sun-Times photo by Tom Cruze)

Calvin Johnson reportedly is retiring after nine seasons in Detroit, and it’s safe to say that the Bears are delighted they won’t have to deal with him anymore.

In 17 games against them, he caught 96 passes for 1,480 yards and 11 touchdowns. That would be a career year for most wide receivers.

Johnson was so fast and so strong that it was almost impossible to stop him.

Unless you came up with a stupid rule.

For those of us who think the NFL has become more regulated than the military, Megatron will be remembered for showing us how over-officious rules makers can take the joy out of the sport. In a 2010 game at Soldier Field, with the Bears leading 19-14 in the closing seconds, Johnson made about as athletic a catch as you can make. He leaped over Bears’ defensive back Zack Bowman in the end zone, grabbed the ball at the height of his jump, used his left hand to break his fall inbounds and then seemed to lay the ball on the ground with his right hand.

Victory, Lions? No. Johnson didn’t maintain possession of the ball, officials ruled.

“The ruling on the field is that the runner did not complete the catch during the process of the catch,’’ referee Gene Steratore announced.

And just like that, about half the romance of football went out the window. Anyone who saw the play knew instinctively it was a catch. They knew Johnson had possession, and they saw the absolute beauty in the sequence.

Grantland Rice’s famous 1924 newspaper story about Notre Dame’s backfield started gracefully:

“Against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen road again. In dramatic lore they are known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden.’’

In 2010, Rice would have had to go with, “Against a blue-gray September sky, Calvin Johnson did not complete the catch during the process of the catch.’’

We’ve really come a long way, haven’t we?

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