Chris Johnson is officially retiring, and coming back to his first NFL home to do so.
Johnson will retire Wednesday as a member of the Tennessee Titans after signing a contract with the team that drafted him in the first round of the 2008 draft. Jim Wyatt of the team’s website reported the news.
Johnson had a fine 10-year career with 9,651 rushing yards, but his NFL legacy will be tied mostly to two things: His otherworldly speed, and one of the greatest single seasons in NFL history.
Chris Johnson’s 2009 is one of the greatest seasons ever
Johnson had a very good rookie season with the Titans, rushing for 1,228 yards and nine touchdowns. It was clear he wasn’t just a sprinter with world-class straight-line speed. He could make defenders miss, catch the ball ... he could do it all, really. And then when he got in the open field, it was over. Nobody could catch him.
Then came his second season, 2009. Through the Titans first five games he was good, with 468 rushing yards. He had just one 100-yard game. Then came a stretch that very few backs through the NFL’s first 99 seasons have come close to.
Over the Titans’ last 11 games Johnson rushed for 1,538 yards and 12 touchdowns. He had at least 100 yards rushing in every game, including 228 yards in a win over Jacksonville. He rushed for 2,006 yards, one of only seven backs in the 2,000-yard club. Johnson’s 2,509 yards from scrimmage is still the NFL record, and by a relatively good margin. Marshall Faulk’s 2,429 yards in 1999 is second all time. Nobody else has reached the 2,400-yard mark.
Johnson was named NFL offensive player of the year. He probably deserved more consideration for MVP, but that has become a quarterback award and the Titans’ mediocre 8-8 record (certainly not Johnson’s fault) wasn’t good enough to capture the voters’ attention. That’s OK, because it was still unquestionably one of the most entertaining seasons for any player ever.
Johnson’s speed was his strength
Johnson wasn’t just productive, he was electrifying. He set the official NFL scouting combine record at the 40-yard dash, running it in 4.24 seconds. That record was finally broken by John Ross in 2017.
Johnson rushed for 1,000 yards in all six of his Titans seasons, before a season with the Jets and three with the Cardinals. He was out of football last season but still has confidence at age 33 that he could produce.
“I know for sure I’d get 1,000 yards if I laced them up,” Johnson told the Titans’ website. “Shoot, that’s not even a question. You put me in an offense where I’m the starting back, there’s no way I wouldn’t get 1,000 yards. I could still do it, but it’s time to move on to the next situation.”
Johnson finishes his career where he started, in Tennessee. We’ll always be able to remember him in that Titans jersey, quickly pulling away from defensive backs like they were standing still.
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