JOHNSON FAMILY VALUES PT. I: BIG BAD BRAD'S ODYSSEY



by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN

@LonnPhillips


The following is transcribed from a phone conversation with Super Bowl Champion & NFL Pro Bowler Brad Johnson, the father of LSU QB Max Johnson and his younger (but taller) brother 2022 LSU TE/WR Jake Johnson.


LONN: I'm on the line with, back by popular demand, 17 year former NFL Pro Bowler and Super Bowl Champion, a man who won playoff games as the starter for two different franchises and appeared in postseason outings with Dallas, Minnesota, Washington and Tampa Bay, you know & love him from his brilliant TicToc videos and from being a proud Tiger Dad, we welcome Brad Johnson, how you doing, Bull?


BRAD: Doing good Lonn, a little practice this morning and then had to run some errands, spent a little time on the court, and now I'm here...so it's been a full day. We got practice (at Oconee High) Monday through Thursday, then that's it, play a little golf on Friday.


LONN: Well this is exciting Brad, I've shared with you my concept a bit. In this first part, I was hoping you could take us on a tour of your life and career if that's alright?


BRAD: Yeah, you know what, whatever comes up I'm good.


LONN: Alright Brad, here we geaux, I'd like to start at FSU. During your time at Florida State, you were a two sport star, football & basketball, the team won big time bowls and finished in the top 5 every season, you played alongside some special quarterbacks and athletes on those epic Bowden teams, but who were the greatest guys you played with at Florida State?


BRAD: Yeah, extremely talented, I remember when we first got there, we had to...they'd put you on drills: all the coaches wanted to coach each position for one day, that way they got to know you a little bit.

So I was doing defensive drills and Mickey Andrews was the defensive coordinator, and I looked to the side at a guy named Leroy Butler who was there...

LONN: Yes!!!

BRAD: (chuckles)...and he should make the Hall of Fame here pretty soon as a Green Bay Packer, I would imagine.

I remember at that time, there was Deion Sanders "Prime Time", as we all got to know him as. He was a football superstar, he was an extremely hard worker, he didn't really talk a lot of noise in practice...he was extremely competitive. Now, (chuckles) when the TV cameras came on and the bright lights, he turned it on.

But he was a hard worker and I was just "wow, this guy is special", ya know? He was that guy!


But our quarterback room was pretty incredible, and at the time we all thought each other stunk, but in the quarterback room we had it.

One time, we had a guy I competed with, Casey Weldon, he ended up being a runner-up to the Heisman, and Peter Tom Willis, he played four years in the NFL, there's a guy named Danny McManus who threw 52,000 yards in the Canadian Football League, and a guy named Charlie Ward who won a Heisman, had an 11 year NBA career, a National Championship....and Chris Weinke was there, he actually left to play baseball for 6 years, came back, he won a Heisman & a National Championship, another guy named Kenny Felder who was a late 1st or early 2nd round MLB pick....

So.... extremely competitive...there were dudes all around the room....

Our running back room... I think we had 9 guys that ended up playing in the NFL, 9 running backs, and one of those guys was named Marion Butts but they actually moved him to defense at one point 'cause they didn't think he would get the carries, so he was playing middle linebacker.

Two years later, he's the leader in the AFC in rushing, and playing in the Pro Bowl for the San Diego Chargers.


So, being around competition and being competitive: that was what you embraced and that's what you went there for.

Pretty awesome experience at Florida State.


LONN: You won the 1989 Sugar Bowl, followed by the 1990 Fiesta Bowl, a game in which you beat Tom Osbourne & LSU WR Coach Mickey Joseph's Nebraska: did you ever talk to Mickey about that game?


BRAD: I did, yeah we've all laughed and talked about it. I didn't play in it but Mickey was...

LONN: Did Mickey have any recollections from that game?

BRAD: He just said "ya'll had the better team, to the victor goes the spoils", ya know? But Mickey was a great quarterback in college, that's for sure.


LONN: Ohhhhh yeah, when I saw that connection I had just wondered if you guys had talked about it. After the Fiesta Bowl in 1990, you kept winning big bowl games each year at FSU, finishing off your FSU career with the 1991 Blockbuster Bowl and 1992 Cotton Bowl, could you sense Bobby Bowden was starting something dynastic at Florida State?

BRAD: When Coach Bowden recruited me, I was from Black Mountain, North Carolina, and I think he was like 63 years old at the time and it was like...how many more years is he gonna really coach??

So when he was in the room, he gave a spiel about Florida State: 'we gotta really good program, it's going to be great for a very long time and we're lookin for great players to come here.'

And so when I went there, he (Coach Bowden) said "you have any questions for me?"

I said I had two, "how much longer do you think you're going to coach?" at the time he had like 160 wins, ended up having over 365 wins or something like that, and the other question I had was "do you play the best players?"


And he said "all the above".....so when I went there in 1987, that was the beginning of a 14 year run with Florida State where each team finished in the top 4. It was extremely competitive; he only brought in great players, he had great great coaches, some went on to be head coaches, Chuck Amato, Mark Richt, it was just a great family place to be, very competitive and expectations were high.


We did not win a national championship when I was there, but that was the beginning of a 14 year run. The only team I think that's close to that 14 year run (of finishing in the top 4) now is Clemson. Maybe Alabama, but I know Clemson for sure.


LONN: You mention family & then you mentioned former Miami QB & UGA Head Coach Mark Richt...so I have to ask you, Brad: during your time as a Seminole, you heard rumors from your friend and GA / QBs Coach Mark Richt about a pretty volleyball player at USF, Mark's sister Nikki Richt, who would turn out to become your future wife......was it love at first sight?

(from left) Max, Jake, Nikki & Brad Johnson at LSU together in 2019.

BRAD: (laughs at my question) I'd heard about Nikki in college and when I was at Florida State, he (Mark Richt) talked about her.

She actually came and played in a volleyball game at Florida State, but I did not get to meet her. So, the first time I actually met Nikki, my wife now, it was a year after I graduated...so, I'd come back in the off-season, I'd work out at Florida State, Coach Richt and I would play racquet ball and he's like "one day I'd like for you to meet my sister."

So we went on a date, we went bowling, we had pizza and it was just kind of an easy date, we knew we liked each other but we were living long distance and the timing wasn't right.

And then 5 years later, Nikki was in town in Tallahassee on a very similar date, went bowling with her family, went to pizza and then later that night, she came over and we had TCBY Ice Cream, played Yahtzee and we knew that was the beginning of it all.

Coach Richt, obviously was my QBs Coach, and him and his wife Catherine just kind of knowing it might be a good match.


LONN: Before you married Nikki, right in that same timeframe, you are now in the NFL and at Minnesota where you were throwing to Hall of Fame receivers, and actually you threw Randy Moss's first ever pro touchdown, I believe it was you who pointed that fact out to me.


BRAD: The play I threw his first touchdown pass on was "change right, speed right bomb" and it's really a roll out to the right and throw it back to the left.... against Tampa Bay, the first game of the season....then his second touchdown was a play called "train right, jet right 748 white shallow".

They were in quarters coverage, I threw the post, he caught it, but one day at practice, we just said "holy cow this guy is so fast". We tried to see if we could out-throw him and we could not. We're taking 5 step drops and we could not out-throw him. We'd seen his game film at Marshall, but he was...

He (Randy Moss) told me one thing, he said "I'm never running full speed, unless it's Deion Sanders, Dale Carter or Darrell Green....the rest of 'em I'm setting up....The rest of 'em I go by 'em...if you throw it up there, I'll go by 'em".

LONN: (Laughs) Half speed? Whaaa?

BRAD: That's who he was....he loved competition, obviously he's a Hall of Famer and pretty awesome to be able to be there for the beginning of his career.

LONN: Also in Minnesota, you were with Hall of Famer Cris Carter too, but when you were traded to Washington, you were only just married to Nikki and you were coming to your favorite team as a kid.


That 1999 season became arguably your second best year as a professional, NFC East Champions, Washington wins their first playoff game in 9 years, then you were within an inch of beating Tampa Bay, lose on a last second field goal, a literal inch away from playing St Louis for the NFC title game. Overall, throughout 1999 you threw 24 TDs and over 4,000 yards, high marks for the era as well as your career, and you were named to the Pro Bowl...what made that 1999/2000 Washington team so successful?

BRAD: Yeah, Washington hadn't been to the playoffs since 1992, they had changes in ownership and what players they were drafting...it was just kind of a mess for a few years.

After I got there, it was a team...

I had Michael Westbrook at receiver, Stephen Davis at running back...

I actually loved playing for Norv Turner. I was in one system for 7 years in Minnesota and loved playing for Brian Billick, it was a change where I learned a new system, new terminology.....and it was a perfect fit for me at that time, it was a really good fit. Winning the Division in San Francisco in overtime, it was just a fun time in part of my career and a great time for the Redskins to win the division.


LONN: You go from Washington to Tampa Bay where suddenly you're playing with Warren Sapp, John Lynch, Derrick Brooks, Simeon Rice, Rhonde Barber, Mike Alstott....that was a hell of a team.

After Tampa Bay beat the Philadelphia Eagles for the NFC title: Brad considers the Eagles win a huge moment.

BRAD: Coach Gruden brought in a lot of new guys to that team in free agency, great guys onn that team, tight end Rickey Dudley, left tackle Roman Oben, Kary Jenkins at guard, and Michael Pittman at running back, we just got some great veteran players, a guy like Shelton Quarles, our middle linebacker, Greg Spires, Brian Kelly, Dexter Jackson ends up being the MVP (of the Super Bowl), and it was just a lot of great players with some Hall of Fame players and it was just perfect timing for all of us.


LONN: Quarles was awesome! In that Super Bowl win, you had 2 TDs and over 230 yards passing in that game, Oakland were a powerhouse that year as well, Charles Woodson, Rich Gannon, Jerry Rice, Tim Brown......In theory, that should've been a classic game, instead it turned out to be a historic blow out by you guys....were you guys confident going into that game?



BRAD: Yeah I mean one of the greatest things for us that year was we beat Philadelphia....they'd had our number for a couple years. I played against them a bunch in Washington being against them in the NFC Eastern division, so I kind of had a feel for 'em, but it was always going to be an ugly game against Philadelphia, nothing was ever easy. So I was used to that. But in the Super Bowl, we got off to a slow start, but then in the second and third quarter we got hot, went up 34-3 and were able to close it out at the end.


LONN: That's true though Philadelphia were a brutal, brutal team back then with Brian Dawkins of course over there on defense, they were a brutal, brutal team. That's interesting how psychological of a war that was to get over the hump, they did have control over the NFC.


BRAD: They went to 4 NFC Championship games, they went to the Super Bowl the year after us, and we just kinda caught lightning in a bottle. It was just two great teams, either team could've gone, but it was just our time. Yeah.... but they were....they were....(laughs)...I mean it was just...when you played against them, you knew you were in for a battle, ya know?


LONN: Absolutely, those Philly teams owned my team Washington forever as well.

Well, we've seen those classic photos of Max as a baby on the Super Bowl field with you, your wife Nikki.... when you first thought of having children, even before you met Nikki, the first time you ever thought of having kids...did you think let's have football sons? Let's root and ground them through sports?


.....to be continued......

COMING SOON....

JOHNSON FAMILY VALUES PT.II:

Brad Johnson talks his sons' LSU recruitment, QB Max's championship mentality, pass-catcher Jake's juggernaut rise, the competitive nature of both brothers, his impressions of LSU heading into 2021, the Tigers' QB battle between his son & Myles Brennan & much more


GEAUX TIGERS


by Lonn Phillips Sullivan

@LonnPhillips

Copyright 2021 Uninterrupted Writings Inc


Shoutouts: The Johnson Family and of course, back by popular demand, Big Bad Brad.

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