Eleven years ago, Lions receiver Calvin Johnson set the single-season receiving yardage record with 1,964. Johnson's record, like all other major single-season records, has survived three seasons of a 17th game.
Johnson's record likely will fall, at some point, in a pass-happy NFL. Does Johnson believe an asterisk should apply when someone breaks it with the benefit of a 17th game?
"One hundred percent," Johnson told Jim Rome on Friday. "You know, I mean shoot, the record should say 16 games or whatever it is. That's what the record should say."
Johnson noted that Dolphins receiver Tyreek Hill had a good chance to break the record in 16 games in 2023, but for the ankle injury he suffered on a Monday night against the Titans.
"It's definitely hanging up there within reach for these guys, especially with that extra game," Johnson said.
Of course, under Johnson's standard, his own record should have an asterisk. Before he generated 1,964 yards in a 16-game season in 2012, the record for a 14-game season had been set by Charley Hennigan of the 1961 AFL Houston Oilers. Hennigan gained 1,746 yards in 14 games.
Hennigan, through 14 games in 2012, had 1,667 yards.
Also, Johnson's per-game average in 2012 of 122.75 yards per game trails Hennigan's average in 1961 of 124.7 yards per game.
Has anyone ever said Johnson's record deserves an asterisk? The record is the record. The number of games are the number of games. No one who held major the 14-game season records said an asterisk should apply once those records fell in a 16-game season.
Indeed, Hennigan's record first fell in 1995, when 49ers receiver Jerry Rice finished with 1,848 yards. (Rams receiver Isaac Bruce had 1,781 that same year.) No one ever said Rice should have an asterisk on the single-season receiving record.
Hennigan's 1961 season was remarkable. He had three 200-yard games, with a high of 272. He started the season with seven straight 100-yard games, a record that remained on the books until 2017, when Vikings receiver Adam Theilen started the season with eight straight 100-yard games. Hennigan averaged 21.2 yards per reception.
But Johnson's record is the record, because once the NFL added two games, everything changed. If/when someone sets the record in 17 games, it will be the record. With the same clarity and certainty that it became the record when Rice set it and Johnson broke it.
Neither bested Hennigan in 14 games, and neither averaged more yards per game than Hennigan did in 1961. But once they set the record, they set the record without asterisk, caveat, or any other limitation.