Megatron's ‘Dancing with Stars’ gig stuns ex-teammates

James Hawkins
The Detroit News
Calvin Johnson, right

Allen Park — Lions running back Ameer Abdullah could only shake his head.

As word began trickling throughout the locker room that retired receiver Calvin Johnson agreed to take part in Season 23 of “Dancing with the Stars,” the second-year back had three words.

“Pray for him.”

For several of Johnson’s former teammates, it was an unexpected decision, much like his retirement was to fans in the offseason. Receiver TJ Jones was a bit skeptical when he first heard the news, stating he needed to see Johnson’s face in a commercial before he believed it.

Yet, Jones said being a contestant on the reality dancing show isn’t totally out of character for Johnson.

“I don’t see him as much of a dancer, but if you know his personality and being kind of a quiet jokester, a fun guy wanting to get out and do different things, it does fit into his personality,” he said.

Johnson was known for being quiet and reserved throughout his career, but not for his dancing skills. Rather than busting a move, Johnson’s go-to move after scoring a touchdown was dunking the football over the goal post, until it was banned in 2014.

“I’ve seen him, like, play dance and that’s enough to see,” Abdullah said. “Calvin is on ‘Dancing with the Stars?’ He’s bored.”

Receiver Golden Tate said the only time he’s seen Johnson dance was at Johnson’s wedding in June, when he slow danced with his mom and shared his first dance with his wife, Brittney.

“I didn’t know he had those type of dance skills, but we’ll see,” Tate said. “I think he definitely can do it. I think he’s going to give it his all and I’m definitely going to record that series and keep him in favorites and text him when he dances.

“He’s stepping outside of his comfort zone and that’s something I like. I know him on a more personal level because I played with him for two years and we’ve become buddies, so I’ve seen that goofy, fun side of him. I hope the world can see that because I think sometimes people just see Calvin as Megatron and this elite athlete and that’s it.”

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Johnson called it quits on his NFL career in March after nine seasons with the Lions. He finished with 731 receptions for 11,619 yards and 83 touchdowns, all franchise records. He also holds the NFL record for most receiving yards in a season: 1,964 in 2012.

Jones said there are a few traits that might transfer from football — such as footwork and being conditioned to working out and performing a routine — but dancing still requires a completely different skill-set.

“It’s a foreign territory for most of us,” Jones said. “You can be competitive as you want to but at the same time you’re going to be counting steps in your head. It’s not going to come second nature,so it’s going to take a different mindset to be actively competitive while also not forgetting your steps or forgetting your routine.”

The cast officially was announced Tuesday on “Good Morning America.” Johnson’s season of “Dancing with the Stars” premieres at 8 p.m. Sept. 12 on ABC.

Among the names competing against Johnson will be former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, rap artist Vanilla Ice, IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe, singer Jana Kramer, and Olympians Laurie Hernandez and Ryan Lochte.

NFL players have a long history of competing on the show, from current stars such as Steelers receiver Antonio Brown and Broncos linebacker Von Miller, to Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith, Jerry Rice, Warren Sapp and Lawrence Taylor. Smith, Hines Ward and former Packers receiver Donald Driver all won their respective seasons; Rice and Sapp each finished runner-up.

Abdullah, however, won’t be watching — and wasn’t optimistic about Johnson’s chances of winning the mirror ball trophy.

“I’ll probably see some GIFs, some memes; they’ll probably make some memes about him,” Abdullah said. “I know he’s stiff. It’s not good news.

“He’s going to do awful. That’s a given. But you know he’s giving it his best shot and that’s all he can ask for.”

Lions coach Jim Caldwell was a bit more hopeful.

It’s also not the first time a player Caldwell has coached has taken part in the show. When Caldwell served as the Ravens offensive coordinator in 2013, receiver/return man Jacoby Jones was a contestant and finished third in Season 16.

“The difference is we played music during the course of practice all the time in Baltimore and Jacoby would dance quite often and he was pretty good at it, as well,” Caldwell said. “Calvin, on the other hand, I did see him dance and he was rather smooth at the wedding.

“He and Brittney were dancing out on the dance floor, so you know, I think he’ll be able to hold his own. He’s been very good at everything else he’s done. I think he might surprise everybody.”