Nate Burleson: Calvin Johnson “Could Easily Be A Diva And Nobody Would Be Mad”

October 22, 2012 – 8:15 am by Brad Gagnon

The Detroit Lions were on the verge of falling to 1-4 late in the fourth quarter last week at Lincoln Financial Field. Detroit was dealing with a double-digit deficit in the final four minutes on the road, but the Lions came alive late, scoring twice in the final minutes to tie the game and then beating Philadelphia in overtime.

It appeared as though that could have been a turning point for the Lions, who look to carry that momentum into tonight’s Monday Night Football matchup with division rival Chicago.

Nate Burleson joined the Afternoon Saloon on ESPN Chicago to discuss last week’s game, the penalties that continue to plague the Detroit Lions, his fine for an inappropriate celebration, the team’s reputation for playing dirty, the Bears’ defense and what makes Calvin Johnson so good.

On last week’s win over the Eagles being a potential turning point:

“It was one of those [defining] moments. I don’t want to call it the [defining] moment of the season, but we knew that we needed that game in Philly and they played a great game up until that point. And when you play against a good defense like that, you just gotta be patient. You gotta push through the tough moments. … And once we kinda felt them bend a little bit, we went full-steam and did everything we needed to do to finish the game off.”

On taking 16 penalties against the Eagles:

“You can’t really put a positive spin on penalties because they just hurt you. There’s no way around it. You can’t sugarcoat it too much. But from a perspective of a leader on this team, I will tell you that I like it when guys play through the whistle. I like it when guys are doing everything within their power to beat the guy across from them. Now, there’s going to be times where you get a hold, there’s going to be times where you make a bonehead play. We have to understand that the coaches are good on the other sideline and these players get paid, too, that we’re going up against. So the only positive spin I can say, from my perspective, is that guys are doing everything within their power. And a lot of people say if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying. So that’s the only thing. We’ve gotta clean that up, but I’m just glad that guys are going all the way in, and that’s a positive.”

On being fined $10,000 for what the league deemed to be an inappropriate celebration in Philadelphia:

“I’m going to appeal it. … Hopefully I get all my money back. There’s been guys shooting guns and bow-and-arrows and swords being pulled out. I don’t think that my super-soaker was a justifiable fine. Seriously, I wasn’t doing anything violent. The rule is you can’t do anything violent towards your opponent, or towards the other sideline, or towards the other team’s coaches, and I just don’t think that was warranted. You know what I mean? I was just out there, very brief — it probably took me five or six seconds, and just a lot of enthusiasm. I caught a touchdown in a very critical moment of the game; this is a very passionate sport. So I just don’t understand why they put so many strict rules on showing that enthusiasm.”

On the team’s reputation for being dirty:

“I heard it a lot more the last couple years. This year I haven’t heard it as much, maybe because we didn’t start off hot like we did last year. The microscope is a lot bigger at 5-0 than it is when you’re 1-3. But that’s kind of what comes with, not only the Lions, but I just think the misconception of Detroit, Mich. Before I signed here, people told me horror stories. It was almost like the storyline from the First 48 TV show, and they were just trying to scare me and telling me that the people were terrible, and they didn’t know how to act, and it’s a roughneck team, all these things. And they were just that, misconceptions. I got here and I fell in love with this city, and they adopted me as one of their own. So we embrace the hustle mentality of Michigan. We embrace the fact that there’s a lot of people here that wake up every morning to do exactly what they gotta do to put food on the table for themselves and their families. And we go out there with that type of attitude each day, and we play football. We don’t take it for granted. You don’t have guys coming into the locker room, closing their eyes and tentatively picking up their checks every week. We’ve got guys proud, and knowing that we’re going out every week, even on game days, earning every single cent that we’re given by the NFL.”

On the difficulty that comes with facing the Bears’ defense:

“They have a traditional defense and they run that. But the one thing people might comment about the Bears is, ‘They run the same defense. So we know them. It’s OK, you don’t have to watch much film because they’re running the same defense for quite some time.’ That’s false. The reason they’re so good at what they’re doing is because they have to run the same defense. They have that chemistry with the unit of guys that are together. The coaching staff knows their players and puts them in the right positions to be successful. So that’s what makes it difficult, is that they are very disciplined, and they’re good. And on top of that, the DBs play the ball like receivers when it’s in the air, which means we have to be that much more aggressive when the ball’s thrown to us.”

On Calvin Johnson:

“In my opinion he’s the best in the game, and I’m not just saying it because I play with him. He works as if he’s trying to make the team, as if he’s a free agent trying to earn a contract. He shows up every day and takes coaching like no other. With his ability, his stature, just his presence on the field, he could easily be a diva and nobody would be mad. Absolutely nobody. But he comes to work humbled by the fact that he needs to improve, which is crazy. Calvin could play a perfect game in everybody else’s eyes, but you’ll see him staring at that film as if he needs to work on so many more things. And that’s what makes him great, in my opinion.”

Listen to Nate Burleson on ESPN Chicago here

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