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Catch of a Lifetime?

With no great offers, the Lions snapped up a star

Posted: Tuesday May 1, 2007 9:38AM; Updated: Wednesday May 9, 2007 1:53PM
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Rod Marinelli (far left) and Matt Millen are ecstatic about the options Calvin Johnson provides them in the passing game.
Rod Marinelli (far left) and Matt Millen are ecstatic about the options Calvin Johnson provides them in the passing game.
David E. Klutho/SI

"I've got to be the Godfather today," Lions president Matt Millen said last Saturday morning, sitting in the living room of his town house in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn. He sounded full of hope and anticipation. In an hour Millen, a man who badly needed a good day, expected to be fielding calls from three or four clubs and hoped -- in a role reversal for Don Corleone -- that someone would make him an offer he couldn't refuse in exchange for the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft.

It never came. At 12:20 p.m., after the Raiders opened the draft by selecting LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell, the Lions went on the clock, prepared to use their full 15 minutes to listen to suitors.

With Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson, widely considered the best receiver to come along in years, there for the taking, all eyes went to the phone console in Millen's office. "Don't do anything with the pick until you talk to me," Redskins owner Daniel Snyder had told him on Thursday. Dallas owner Jerry Jones and Millen had talked at length before the draft, with Millen explaining what he was looking for: high-round picks, plus a starting player. Millen thought he might also hear from general managers Rich McKay of the Falcons and Bruce Allen of the Buccaneers, both of whom he'd spoken to late in the week.

A month earlier Denver had offered two first-round picks, a second-rounder and two third-rounders, plus veteran linebacker Al Wilson, but when the Broncos wouldn't substitute another second-round pick for the injured Wilson, Millen turned them down. With that, the bar was set high.

Two minutes passed. Four. Eight. Not a single ring. And Millen wasn't going to make any calls. In the macho world of NFL deal-making, to do so when you're on the clock is the ultimate sign of desperation.

Not that desperation hasn't been in ample supply in Detroit. The Lions' 24-72 record during Millen's six seasons -- worst in the NFL over that span -- partly reflects his poor drafts. Johnson would be the fourth receiver Detroit had taken in the top 10 in the last five years. Two were abject failures -- the injury-plagued Charles Rogers (2003) and the uninterested Mike Williams ('05), who, fittingly, was dealt to Oakland later on Saturday. Quarterback-of-the-future Joey Harrington, the No. 3 pick in '02, also flopped.


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