9. Charles Tillman vs. Calvin Johnson
Many of the greatest WR-DB rivalries are the product of a simple progression: divisional rivals face each other twice a season, with the top team winning a guaranteed playoff spot. Divisional opponents are drafted into a rivalry, and for competitive athletes like Calvin “Megatron” Johnson and Charles “Peanut” Tillman who take their roles seriously, team rivalries turn into personal ones.
For seven years, Tillman lined up opposite Johnson and anticipated his every move, looking to use his signature “Peanut Punch” whenever possible against the Hall of Fame wide receiver. With Johnson and Tillman, it was purely about winning each onfield battle, which Tillman eloquently recounted in an open letter to Johnson upon Johnson’s retirement in 2016.
“The Peanut Punch never seemed to work on you, and sometimes, I got a little desperate,” Tillman humorously recounted. “Sorry. But that was us: two heavyweights trading blows for four quarters. So maybe it’s fitting that this past offseason, we both decided to hang it up for good.”
Tillman insists that the game wouldn’t be the same without Johnson, revealing how every defensive back in the league had to mentally prepare themselves to cover Megatron. Both Tillman and Johnson were first-team All-Pro Pro Bowlers in 2012, while Tillman led the league in forced fumbles and Johnson led the league in receiving yards and receptions. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the greatest professional year for both Tillman and Johnson came in the same year as the two players dueled even harder against one another.
A respectful rivalry to the end, Tillman signed his letter with a message of gratitude. “[Thank you] for making every man who lined up across from you better — especially an old rival.”