Brad Johnson reflects on his unique QB journey, Super Bowl XXXVII, and being a QB dad
In 1992, Brad Johnson was picked in a round that doesn’t even exist anymore in the NFL draft.
The first signal-caller to help lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a Lombardi Trophy, Johnson’s tenure in Tampa Bay was just one incredible stop on a long, winding road of a quarterbacking journey that took the Florida State alum all over the map.
A longtime journeyman, Johnson grew up rooting for a team he would eventually lead to the playoffs before his stint with the Bucs.
“Growing up in North Carolina, Washington was really the only team that was actually on TV at that time,” Johnson says. The Atlanta Falcons weren’t very good. The Carolina Panthers weren’t there, the Tennessee Titans weren’t there, the Jacksonville Jaguars weren’t there. And so the only game you got to really see every week you were guaranteed was Washington. So I grew up loving Joe Theismann and Doug Williams, and felt like I had football cards of every football player for Washington at that time.”
Johnson loved playing just about every sport, especially basketball (Larry Bird and Chris Mullin were “his guys”). But he eventually landed on the gridiron for the long haul, at the game’s most important position.
RVR Photos-USA TODAY Network
“I was always good at throwing a football, and played football since second grade, and all those kinds of things just grew into my passion,” Johnson says. “Just the grind of playing the position, but it’s something that I love to do. And to have a 17-year career, just looking back it’s pretty awesome. I kind of have to pinch myself every day. To help three different organizations to the playoffs, and to have won a Super Bowl with the Bucs was just a dream come true for me.”
“Phil Simms was one of my heroes. In 1987, he got to say, ‘I’m going to Disney World’ with confetti falling all over his face,” Johnson recalls. “Pretty awesome. I got to do that in 2003.”
Johnson’s winding football road took him all the way to the World League, where he spent the Spring of 1995 with the London Monarchs, in the middle of his time with the Minnesota Vikings. All of those different stops presented their unique challenges, but Johnson embraced the adversity every step of the way.
“Everybody has a different story,” Johnson says. “What’s your QB journey? You know, a lot of people deal with adversity. You deal with injuries, you deal with free agency, you deal with who’s your coach, coaches getting fired, who did they bring in through the draft. It’s just hard to find your place.”
Despite spending his first two seasons in the NFL at the bottom of the depth chart, Johnson benefitted from playing behind veterans who had plenty of success at the game’s highest level.
“The first three quarterbacks I was behind in the pros were Rich Gannon, who won MVP, and Jim McMahon, who won a Super Bowl, and Warren Moon, who’s a Hall of Famer,” Johnson recalls. “It’s tough, you know. I had to beat out two Heisman winners to get my job as a second-string quarterback. So it’s just tough. But if you love the sport, you love what you do, you love your craft, you’ve got a chance. And if you give yourself a chance to be great at something, and someone believes in you, then something great can happen along the way, if you play with a great team.”
“I was fortunate enough play for a lot of great coaches, played 17 years for three different organizations. It’s just pretty awesome looking back, all the stuff that I had to go through, but all the memories I made at the same time, too.”
Johnson signed with the Bucs in 2001, and the following year, he would help lead the Bucs to a magical season that culminated with a dominant 48-21 win over the Oakland Raiders (quarterbacked by Gannon in his MVP season) in Super Bowl XXXVII.
(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
“With Tampa, we had some great teams there,” says Johnson of his time with the Bucs. “And when you’ve got to be good, you’ve got to be lucky, and then you got to come through in the clutch. We brought in, I think, 16 or 17 free agents that year, and brought a bunch of new guys into the offense. Ken Dilger, Ricky Dudley, Joe Jurevicius, Keenan McCardell, Roman Oben, Kerry Jenkins, Michael Pittman. We went 3-1 every four games, ended up 12-4, and got hot at the right time of the year.”
Tampa Bay’s defense was one of the most dominant in NFL history that season, a unit that featured four Hall of Famers. Even so, Johnson believes it was a well-rounded team effort, coaching staff included, that led to their incredible championship run.
“The offense was very underrated,” Johnson says. “Led the NFC in passing that year, and ended up making the Pro Bowl. We had so many great players that just kind of got overshadowed, because the defense was one of the greatest of all time, but it takes a whole team to win it. You’ll never find any team that wins it without being great in all three phases. We had great coaches like Mike Tomlin, who went on to coach for Pittsburgh, and won a Super Bowl there. Rich Bisaccia, who became head coach, and Rod Marinelli and Joe Berry and Raheem Morris, who became a head coach. The list goes on. It takes greatness to be great. And we did catch lightning in a bottle that year.”
The latest chapter of Johnson’s journey includes the National Quarterback Hall of Fame, where he’s been inducted as part of the 2023 class, alongside Ron Jaworksi and Michael Vick.
It also means being a support system for someone else’s quarterback journey: His son, Max.
(Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
“I coached him pretty much out of the womb,” Johnson says of his son, who started his collegiate career at LSU before transferring to Texas A&M. “How to take a snap, how to do three-step, five-step, seven-step drops. Play fakes, and how to read coverages, and those things. Called plays for him. When he was in fourth and fifth grade team, I was out there scouting other teams, just trying to get wins, and had fun doing it. Coached him all the way through high school, went to a state championship. But now, I’m a dad in the stands, eating popcorn. He has other coaches, and you can’t tell him to throw it to certain people, or look out for the blitz. He’s on his own. As a quarterback, it doesn’t matter who you are. You’ve got to go through the ring of fire, deal with different adversities, deal with different successes.”
“We’re an athletic family,” says Johnson, whose wife, Nikki, played volleyball at the University of South Florida. “We have adversity stories to tell, and we’re really just there for support at this point. He’s trying to blaze his own trail, and it’s gonna be fun watching him do it.”
When asked about the legacy he leaves behind for the next generation of quarterbacks, and any sage advice he would pass along, Johnson keeps it simple.
“The grind is real,” Johnson says. “Enjoy the process of it, be as great as you can at your craft, control what you can control, and and love what you do. And the rest of it will take care of itself in time. I loved my 17-year career. I embrace everything that came with it; the good the bad, the ugly. But in the end, if you’re true to yourself, and true your craft, great things usually come out of it.”