Were we wrong about former NFL QB Brad Johnson?

Warren McCarty

I’ll be the first to raise my hand, and proclaim my guilt when it comes to uttering disparaging comments regarding former NFL QB Brad Johnson. I’m going to take a wild guess and say that unless you are a member of his family, or have had the opportunity to spend significant time with him in person, you are probably guilty of the same transgressions as I am.

Brad Johnson
Brad Johnson

ICONQB Brad Johnson played 17 seasons in the NFL.

Brad Johnson somehow popped into my brain on a flight to Texas this past weekend, and I started to wonder if I was correct in dissing on the journeyman QB, or if the possibility existed that I may actually owe this dude an apology.

For almost a decade now, fans and my colleagues in the media have scoffed at the notion that he was a Super Bowl winning QB in Tampa. He’s routinely grouped into the same discussion that comes up when people talk about how Trent Dilfer “accidentally quarterbacked” the Ravens to the Super Bowl, and how that it is indeed possible for a mediocre QB to win a ring by simply handing the ball off and not making a bunch of mental mistakes. Known in the latter years of his career as “Checkdown Johnson” for his eagerness to hit the backside hitch rather than take shots downfield, Johnson has always been criticized for a lack of arm strength.

And I was one of those guys, making fun of his less than fashionable elbow pads and his embarrassingly weak arm.

I’m a man who can admit when he is wrong. After some digging and analysis, it’s become crystal clear to me that Brad Johnson is worthy of nothing but appreciation and love from football fans and media types across the country. He started only a handful of games in college and wasn’t drafted until the 9th round (the equivalent of being a low-level undrafted free agent these days). How many part-time starters in college that somehow sign a street free agent contract even make NFL teams these days, much less play 17 seasons, earn a Super Bowl ring, and go to two Pro Bowls?

During that Super Bowl winning season for Tampa in 2002, Johnson was more than just an effective game-manager that threw hitches and kept the turnovers down to a minimum. It’s not like he put up Tim Tebow-like numbers with 125 yards passing and touchdown every other game through the air, while operating a ground system.

Brad Johnson made plays when the Bucs needed them, and he played huge in big games. During the regular season, he threw for 3,049 yards, 22 TD’s, and only 6 picks in 13 games.  That’s 235 yards passing a game.  In a crucial victory against Minnesota in November, he scorched the Vikings for 313 yards and 5 TD’s with no turnovers. Against Atlanta in December, he threw for 276 yards and 4 TD’s with no turnovers to lock up a playoff berth. In the Super Bowl victory that year vs. Oakland, he threw for 215 yards and 2 TD’s. 

I could go on and on with statistical analysis and comparisons, but here are a few other notables that I was unaware of prior to my research: Brad Johnson threw for 4,005 yards as the Redskins starter in 1999, and is only the 2nd Redskins QB in team history to pass the 4,000 yard mark (the first was Jay Schroeder in the 80’s). He threw for 3,811 yards for the Bucs in 2003, which even by today’s standards is quality yardage. He holds a higher career passer rating than two of my QB heroes that happen to reside in the Hall of Fame: Troy Aikman and Warren Moon.  He threw more TD’s and fewer INT’s than Aikman did in his career. He was the 1st QB in NFL history to go 13 consecutive seasons with a completion percentage above 60%. He was a starting guard for the Florida State basketball team as a true freshman, and played through his sophomore season before concentrating solely on football for the Seminoles.

Brad Johnson will never join my QB heroes in Canton, Ohio.  He may never be recognized as a baller at the position, and certainly people don’t clamor for his autograph when he walks into the grocery store. But he was a two sport athlete at a prominent D1 program, a very good NFL QB, a two-time Pro Bowler, and he is a Super Bowl Champion. If anything, he should be admired for his perseverance, his athleticism, and his love of competition.

Brad Johnson, you’ve got my respect, sir.

Warren McCarty is the founder of mypassionisfootball.com

Follow Warren on Twitter: @mpifradio

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