PHOTO:Kansas City Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez (88) is tackled
by New England Patriots defenders Ted Johnson (52) and Eugene Wilson (26) during
the first half at Arrowhead Stadium Monday, Nov. 22, 2004, in Kansas City, Mo.
Gonzalez gained 12 yards on the pass from Trent Green. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Ted Johnson, Not taking it for granted
By Michael Reardon, Site Contributor
The New England Patriots is a franchise that has had a variety of colorful
characters with compelling stories come and go in its recent history. The arrival
and messy departure of Bill Parcells. The decline and departure of local icon
and franchise quarterback Drew Bledsoe. The rapid rise to greatness of his replacement,
a fourth string nobody named Tom Brady. The emergence of Bill Belichick as the
most successful head coach in the NFL. The falling out with and release of a
vocal team leader Lawyer Milloy. The turnaround story of the NFL, Corey Dillon,
setting franchise records just one season removed from rotting away on the perennial
non - competitive Cincinnati Bengals.
Without a doubt, being a Patriots fan and follower is seldom a dull endeavor.
These stories often dominate newspaper headlines and sports talk show phone
calls. They also cover up other stories that, while they do not often attract
the most attention, are no less incredible or deserving of praise.
One of these stories is that of insider linebacker Ted Johnson. Perhaps more
than any other player on the New England roster, Johnson has come to intimate
terms with success and glory as well as disappointment and uncertainty over
his ten year career in the NFL. He's gone from starting middle linebacker and
the team captain to a forgotten backup struggling for playing time. He has been
hampered by bad luck and freak injuries throughout his career, and every return
from the injured list has been met with continuing doubts of his durability,
his effectiveness, and his aging body in what is known as a young man's game.
These trials and tribulations have taught provided Johnson with wisdom beyond
his years, and he has learned to appreciate his career, one day at a time.
"I don't take it for granted, believe me," said Johnson in a 2004
interview, "If anybody knows, it's me. This can change in an instant."
Johnson was drafted by the Patriots in 1995 in the second round and enjoyed
a successful rookie campaign, finishing 7th on the team in tackles (71) despite
missing four games with a knee sprain. In his next two seasons, Johnson started
32 consecutive regular season games, every single playoff game, and his first
Super Bowl. He lead the team in tackling for two years straight with 115 tackles
in 1996 and 127 in 1997, and was named defensive captain in 1997.
It was during this time that Johnson developed into the type of NFL player
he would be for his career. He was a solid, bruising linebacker whose attributes
were best suited to stuffing the inside run. He had instincts and good vision
and could read blocking schemes quickly; a talent that would only develop more
as his career progressed. He had a tackler's mentality, and would rather meet
a runner head on at the line of scrimmage than wrap up his legs on an outside
run. His 1998 campaign was among the best on his team, as he had recorded 95
tackles in the first 13 games.
Then on December 26th Johnson suffered a season - ending pectoral tear while
tackling Steelers running back Jerome Bettis.
This injury was the beginning of what would become a series of physical setbacks
that Johnson would suffer throughout his career. In the next three seasons,
Johnson would start just 21 of the 48 regular season games and experience varying
success in the games he did play in. Most of the injuries were accidental ones
and not because he was "injury - prone" or "brittle." The
freak muscle tear Johnson experienced in 1998 would come to typify that kind
of frustrating injuries that would befall him over the years. In 2000, Johnson
gave back over $3 million in salary to remain with the Patriots despite is decreasing
production and health problems.
In 2001, Johnson managed to avoid serious injury, but discovered that he'd
been demoted to a backup player. During the Patriots Super Bowl season, Johnson
played in 12 games but started only 5. He had been passed over on the depth
chart and gone from a team captain to a role player.
Johnson took his diminished playing time with a level of maturity and professionalism
that he is known around the locker room and organization for.
"There's been team success where I haven't had personal success and had
to deal with that. Your ego is taking shots, you're dealing with a ton of things
-- your identity, where you fit in, how can I contribute? You're a starter for
most of your career, and then you're not."
Right after the Super Bowl, Johnson was left exposed to the expansion draft
of the Houston Texans. Johnson could have taken this as a slap in the face and
use it as an excuse to adopt a very negative attitude towards the ownership.
Instead, Johnson attended the Super Bowl parade with the rest of his team. Of
the 5 players left exposed to the draft, Johnson was the only player to attend
During the off - season, Johnson contemplated his options. He had the opportunity
to play at Green Bay and get paid a contract that the Patriots probably wouldn't
match. His current salary was $3.1 million and Johnson could had demanded that
the Patriots pay him that contract and been released, free to take the job at
Green Bay. However, because Johnson wanted to stay at New England, he decided
to first have a conversation with coach Bill Belichick about what his role would
be for the future. He was told that he would have a substantial role in the
defense, albeit not a starting one. Johnson was willing to accept this, and
not only did he stay with New England, but he agreed to take a pay cut from
$3.1 million to $650, 000 to do so.
However, Johnson's expectations of playing time did not seem to be realized
at the outset of the 2002 season. When the 45 - man active roster game out for
the opening game in Pittsburgh, Johnson was shocked to see that he was left
off of it. Angered, he walked out of practice and did not return nor answer
phone calls for two days as he discussed the situation with his agent.
The role - reduction and the pay cuts, Johnson was willing to accept. However,
he'd made his condition for a fair chance at playing time very clear, and when
he was left off the active game roster, he felt that he'd been lied to.
"Things were said, and I believed them," said Johnson at the time,
"I guess I'm old - fashioned like that."
For a few days, most doubted that Johnson would even return to the team. There
seemed to be problems of every kind: playing time disagreements, contractual
grievances, and a personal split between Belichick and Johnson himself. However,
Johnson ultimately decided that returning to the Patriots was his best option,
and he did so.
Not only did he return and play with the Patriots in 2002, he also did it in
dramatically improved fashion. Johnson had his healthiest and most productive
year since 1998, playing in 14 games and starting 11 of them. He finished second
on the team with 96 tackles and was voted team captain, an honor he'd not had
Heading into the 2003 season, Johnson looked poised to continue the success
he'd had the year before. He was voted defensive team captain once again, and
once again restructured his contract and took less money to say with the Patriots.
However, on September 7th, Johnson's career hit yet another roadblock, as he
suffered a broken foot in Buffalo that kept him out of pads for 8 weeks; half
the regular season. Johnson returned in November, and although he was a contributing
member of the linebacker rotation for the remainder of the regular season and
the Super Bowl run, he was unable to regain the starting position he had earned
back the season before.
Today, as his team enters its fourth Super Bowl during his tenure, 32-year
old Johnson is in the midst of yet another comeback season. Johnson played in
all 16 games this season and started 15 of them. He is third leading tackler
on one of the best defenses in the league. He is once again a vital contributor
of the New England defense, and a member of one of the most talented and versatile
linebacker groups in the NFL. He is a veteran leader on a team that he loves,
a team that he took multiple pay cuts to stay on, a team that is on its way
to becoming one of the greatest of all - time.
And he is enjoying every minute of it.
"Football has been great to me. I've enjoyed the lessons. I've had some
great highs and then I've gone very, very low."
Asked about his career - long battles with injuries, Johnson responded: "Self
- doubt has certainly crept in too many times than I would have liked, but I
had high aspirations for something more and it wasn't working out that way.
There were several times when I wanted to walk away from the game and try something
new, but ownership believed in me and were willing to work with me so it's certainly
been a give and take."
In this age of sports superstars and prima-donnas, Johnson is a true example
of a blue collar athlete and embodies the mentality of the New England Patriots
as a whole. The characteristics he personifies, selflessness, hard work, and
intelligence, are also words that analysts use to describe his entire team.
And after a rollercoaster career of success and disappointment, Johnson will
be heading into his fourth Super Bowl as a starter, as a leader, as a New England
You can find more stories about Patriots players in the HOT
NEWS section or in their player profiles.
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