Calvin Johnson Madden  opt

The NFL dead season is still the alive season. Nobody markets themselves better than the NFL with its hype machine churning constantly all year, but during late June and early July with the offseason workouts completed, the players and coaches scatter to all parts of the globe to wind down a bit before the training camps open in late July.

While the players and coaches take a break from their gladiator game, Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson is right in the mix of the NFL hype machine.

EA Sports recently released the official cover of its “Madden 13” football video game which featured Johnson – only the second Lions to be so honored. The cool part of the cover is that two Detroit landmarks are featured in the background, Ford Field and the Renaissance Center.

Johnson earned the honor by winning an online bracket-style voting competition, and it was a close competition. A No. 6 seed in the 64-player competition, he defeated No. 1 seed Panthers quarterback Cam Newton in the finals. Johnson received 52 percent of the 651,736 votes cast in the finals to Newton’s 48 percent.

In earlier rounds, Johnson defeated Chiefs receiver Dwayne Bowe, Texans running back Arian Foster, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and, in the semifinals, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Wow!

In 2000 Lions Hall of Fame back Barry Sanders graced the cover of Madden, while Johnson now joins, along with Sanders, other NFL greats like Eddie George, Daunte Culpepper, Marshall Faulk, Michael Vick, Ray Lewis, Donovan McNabb, Brett Favre, and Drew Brees, just to mention a few.

It is a great honor for Johnson gracing the cover of such a popular NFL-licensed console video game. For Johnson, the Lions and Detroit it is national recognition.

Does this put more press on the Lions and Johnson? Well, in any football season there is always pressure to meet expectations and get a playoff berth. Now Johnson falls under the so-called Madden cover hex/curse.

The Green Bay Packer fans are rejoicing that their man, quarterback Rodgers, was not on the cover. Packer fans point to the less than stellar season produced by Madden cover men Shaun Alexander, Vick, Favre and Vince Young. But the Lions faithful can point to their own Sanders and a number of others that survived the Madden cover curse.

“I am honored and humbled that fans across America have chosen me as the cover person for Madden 13,” Johnson told reporters. “I do not believe in the so-called curse. I plant to prepare and work hard in the off season like I always do and hopefully it will help us produce a season the Detroit fans will be proud of.”

Following the Madden announcement Johnson found himself named as the third best player in the NFL by his peers.

And why not?

He led the NFL in the two most important receiving categories — receiving yards and touchdowns — and didn’t even need to lead the league in receptions to do it. It was the kind of breakout season that squashed any debate about his status as elite and helped land him on the cover of the next installment of the Madden video game.

Megatron is now receiving praise from the people who can best appreciate his abilities on the football field: his NFL peers.

NFL Network has been working through the top 100 players in the NFL as voted by the players and Johnson, when all the ballots were tabulated, checked in at number three. Only Brees (second) and Rodgers (first) were ranked higher.

The Lions, recognizing that they have a special talent, recently re-signed Johnson to an eight-year contract beginning with the 2012 season and extending through the 2019 season. No other contract terms were disclosed.

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