Editor's note: Trippin' on E(mail) will no longer appear in The Gameface. During the 2008 offseason, the section will run on Tuesday.
Keyshawn Johnson has a job that most of his former NFL peers envy. The veteran wideout made a smooth segue from the football field to the broadcast booth, and now he gets paid a hefty salary to talk about the game on ESPN.
There's just one catch: After spending a season watching many receivers he believes aren't as good as he was, Johnson is strongly considering a comeback.
"I like challenges," Johnson told Yahoo! Sports on Monday. "The challenge of helping to turn a team around, to help get it to the next level, that gets my competitive fires burning. I have the itch, and right now I'm trying to decide how strong that itch is."
Whether those feelings will compel Johnson, who'll turn 36 in July, to return to the league will likely depend on the way in which potential employers perceive his current value. A three-time Pro Bowl selection with 10,571 career receiving yards, Johnson says he'll decide in the next few days whether to pursue a return to the playing field.
After catching 70 passes for 815 yards in 2006 with the Carolina Panthers, his fourth team in 11 NFL seasons, Johnson was released and attracted interest from several suitors, most notably the Tennessee Titans. In May, he turned down a two-year contract offer worth nearly $8 million from the Titans, instead signing a lucrative, four-year deal with ESPN.
Though Johnson declined to get into monetary specifics Monday, it is not likely that his asking price has come down. Yet the amount of cash he is likely to seek from an NFL team might not be realistic for someone in his situation.
"We wouldn't pay him that much," says Dallas Cowboys president Stephen Jones, who has maintained a good relationship with Johnson since he was released by the Cowboys following the 2005 season. "We have a player who is kind of like him in Patrick Crayton, and age is an issue. Plus, he's been out of football for a year, and it's not like (he got faster). Mother Nature doesn't work that way."
Another person who has final say over his team's roster expressed a similar sentiment, saying, "He's a very good player, but if anything, his value has gone down a little. He wasn't super fast to begin with, now he has been away for a year."
Johnson has been working out regularly since January and scoffs at the notion that his skills have diminished. It's true that many NFL talent evaluators cite Johnson's blocking ability, willingness to battle defenders on the backside during running plays and ability to make the tough catches on third down and in the red zone as assets that transcend his statistical value. He believes that he would also provide leadership and the ability to mentor young receivers.
When he talks about "helping to turn a team around," it's hard not to think about the Miami Dolphins. New Dolphins vice president of football operations Bill Parcells has remained close with Johnson, whom he coached in Dallas and New York (with the Jets, who made Johnson the No. 1 overall pick out of USC in 1996), and the two spent last season together appearing on ESPN's Sunday and Monday night pregame studio shows. The two men speak frequently, though Johnson says they have not discussed his possible signing with the Dolphins in anything but an abstract sense.
Parcells, through a Dolphins spokesman, declined to comment on Johnson's potential return.
Other potential suitors could include the Titans and Oakland Raiders, each of whom expressed serious interest in Johnson last spring; the Redskins, who under owner Daniel Snyder have a history of shelling out cash for big-name veterans; the Buccaneers, who inquired about signing Johnson to a bargain-basement deal toward the end of the '07 regular season; and the Patriots, who reportedly will pass on picking up a $6 million option bonus for wideout Donte' Stallworth (thus making him a free agent). Johnson is close with Patriots coach Bill Belichick, though it is unlikely New England would covet Johnson at the numbers he believes he's worth.
The Bucs scenario is especially intriguing, given that Johnson was deactivated (and essentially banished) for the final six games of the '03 regular season after he feuded with coach Jon Gruden, for whom he won a Super Bowl the previous year. Yet Johnson, traded by Tampa Bay to the Cowboys for Joey Galloway in March '04, gave serious consideration to the Bucs' offer last December and says he absolutely is not averse to playing for Gruden again.
As athletes-turned-commentators go, Johnson has a pretty sweet situation with ESPN and its parent company, Disney. Like Tiki Barber's deal with NBC, which includes a part-time role for the ex-New York Giants halfback on the "The Today Show," Johnson's pact includes potential for crossover appearances on programs like ABC's "Dancing With Stars." On Monday he filled in for Jim Rome as a guest host on ESPN's "Rome is Burning."
TRIPPIN' ON E(MAIL)
"Finally! Someone who isn't a Broncos fan telling it like it is. I have been saying for years that the Broncos/Packers SB was the best ever, and for all of the reasons you talked about. But being that I am a Broncos fan, no one would ever look at it as anything more than a Broncos fan giving undue credit to his team. Thank you for another great column!"
Green River, Wy.
My pleasure, and please file this one away so that the next time I do something unconscionable – like criticize a certain blue-and-orange-clad team – you're only somewhat enraged.
"I just want to thank you for your recent column ranking the best Super Bowls. I think you've made up for Fox's mistake. During the fourth quarter, Fox ran a short montage of the greatest upsets ever. Fox forgot about Super Bowl XXXII! I have been a Broncos fan all my life and was outraged that the greatest upset in Super Bowl history was not included during the Fox broadcast. Thanks for recognizing the greatest upset and greatest Super Bowl of all time: Super Bowl XXXII!"
Yahoo! Sports 1, Fox 0.
"Your top six Super Bowls are way off. Super Bowl in 1998 is your No. 1? What a joke? If the Giants' win over the Pats, which we where as many as 14-points under dogs in the game, is not No. 1 you dont like football … What, John Elways jump for the goal line was your cherry on top? Please! Be down four points with under two minutes to go and have a quaterback still un-proven in NFL drive his team down for the go ahead score … thats football."
Let me guess: Not a Broncos fan? (And, while we're at it: Not a spelling and grammar buff?)
"Green Bay and Denver No. 1? Are you kidding me? Come on, if you asked 1,000 people the same question, not even five percent would say Green Bay and Denver. I do enjoy your writing though. Keep up the good work."
I think I asked about 20 million people, albeit indirectly.
"How old are you, 28? Can you be more obvious? Five of your Super Bowls were between 1998-2008 and one token one from 1989. Please. You are missing all the titanic struggles of the late 1960s through the 1970s and a few in the early 1980s. Those years built the Super Bowl as we know it. What we see now, with free agency and loading up rosters, is the equivalent of watching the Pro Bowl. Yawn … I'll take the postseason of Steelers, Cowboys, Raiders, and Dolphins any day – manly battles with drama that kept one on the edge of one's seat. Hell, even Steelers-Rams was better than what we have seen in the past 20 years (exception was Broncos upsetting Packers). This year's was boring – underachieving Patriots vs. a less-than-thrilling Giants team … Thank God for cable and DVDs!"
I was going to come up with an entertaining answer, but my head is still foggy: I was too busy fantasizing about being 28 again.
"Where was Super Bowl XIII: Pittsburgh 35, Dallas 31? Unquestionably the best ever and I'm not biased. How could a 6 year old living on the west side of Pittsburgh have been biased? Although Super Bowl X could have been better but I don't remember much since I wasn't quite four at the time."
Super Bowl XIII was at the Orange Bowl in Miami. Thanks for asking. (No, seriously, it was an entertaining game featuring a lot of great players, but the Steelers had an 18-point lead with seven minutes to go. The Cowboys' furious comeback, aided by an onside kick, cut the deficit to four with 22 seconds to go – until a second Dallas onside kick attempt failed. Translation: Not as close as the score indicated.)
"I disagree with you on one perspective on your rating. I believe that the Super Bowl XXXVIII with the Panthers and the Patriots should have been in there on the top. It was one of the greatest played. You have to give it that credit."
No I don't! (Good game, but not in my top 6.)
"Since Super Bowl III, Jets vs. Colts did not make your top 6, in what position would you place that game?"
Tampa Bay, Fla.
"Ok, Michael you have rated your six best Super Bowls of all time. Which six would you declare to be the worst? Super Bowl XL maybe? Would love to see which games you choose!"
That's awesome – one less future column idea required. Thanks, and stay tuned.
"I hate to say this but your list for the six greatest Super Bowls screams out that you are an East Coast homer. The only West Coast team that appears to have any credibility with you is the 1981 49ers. I know most of their other Super Bowls were routs but what about the Raiders? They played one with Marcus Allen that totally took the East Coast Redskins, and the nation, just as by surprising as what the Giants just did to the Patriots. I know your list is your opinion but it kind of smacks 'homer.' "
San Jose, Calif.
Really? Does it? Because I could drive from my house to your house and discuss it with you a bit later today if you'd like. For those of you who haven't been paying attention: California born, California raised, Cal educated, California resident. That said, even though I grew up in all that smog down south, I nonetheless can see clearly when it comes to things like rating Super Bowls for entertainment value.
"… You didn't include the Redskins when Doug Williams had the best game in Super Bowl history or any of the Steelers games … but you included two from New England … you must reside in the RI, CT, MA, VT, ME, NH. You probably think O.J. (Simpson) was better than Barry Sanders … save your ink."
O.J. was better than Barry Sanders. And what is this thing you call "ink?"
"I find it odd that the Cowboys have been in more Super Bowls than anyone and yet they weren't even mentioned in your Super Bowl column. Typical hater? I hope not!"
My belief that none of the Cowboys' Super Bowls have been among the six-most compelling makes me a hater? Really? I don't normally think of Cowboys fans as being that insecure, but I may have to reconsider that opinion.
"(Five) of the greatest Super Bowls you listed were 1998 or later. Yeah, right! What a waste of a column. Can you rate the greatest songs ever for us next? 1998 and later should work for that too."
Be careful what you wish for.
"Call me biased Michael, but didn't you forget the 1985 Bears? How can we not give a nod to the team that brought us our made household names of 'Da Coach' Ditka; The Super Bowl Shuffle; Walter Payton; 'The Fridge;' Quarterback No. 9; and just so many other greats that year? Oh and did I forget to mention that the Bears are going to do it again … next year; right after our Cubbies take it in late summer!"
Ah, yes, Super Bowl XX: Bears 46, Patriots 10. Look for a nod to that game when I write that column suggested by Ms. Wallace.
"Are you sure the touchdown pass in Super Bowl XXIII that brought victory to the 49ers was to John Taylor? I distinctly remember it to be to Jerry Rice? The only reason I am questioning that is because I am a Cincinnati fan and I always remembered it as (Joe) Montana to Rice to end our hopes in two Super Bowls!"
Dude, easy on the nitrous oxide. No, seriously, there's this thing called Yahoo! Search. It can lead you directly to the answer.
"In regards to your comments about Mike Huckabee, I am wondering if all Democrats are as intolerant and close-minded to people's views they disagree with as you are?"
Am I (and many other Democrats and Republicans) intolerant of the view that the world is only 9,000 years old? Yes. Just as I am intolerant of the view that two plus two is 12, or that the sun rises in the west, or that anyone but Joe Montana is the greatest quarterback of all time.
" Don't you love it? Parity at its best. Go Barack (Obama)! By the way, his kids go to my old school; best behaved children you'll ever meet …"
Sweet. I hope they'll be switching schools in January of '09.
"Hey Mike, love reading your column, and liked what you did with 'Karma Police.' However, and I know how annoyed you get when people comment on grammatical errors, but the lyrics to the chorus are actually 'This is what you'll get when you mess with love,' not 'when you mess with us.' Anyway, no big deal, just pointing it out for your sake. Keep it real, Mike. Go Giants!"
First of all: No, it is, in fact, "mess with us." Secondly, they're altered lyrics, so what difference does it make?
"Thanks so much for a great season of writing … simply loved the Radiohead lyric-altered song, although concerning Mr. Belicheck perhaps 'Paranoid Android' might be more fitting?"
Nice. It's good to see some of you are thinking out there.
"Sports talk radio down here in Philly has given a name to the play of the game (Eli's great escape to Tyree's amazing helmet catch): The Giant Snatch. I feel this name deserves the national attention that only you, my good Mr. Silver, can provide. Keep up the good work!"
I'm happy to be of service. Wow.
"Man you suck. You praise the people who kiss your butt and insult the people who call you out. You must have been the little pain in the butt who never stood up for himself; now you talk big behind a sports column."
I love you, man.
"I love to read your column, and almost love to read all of the angry comments at the end even more. Your responses are entertaining. I almost had a heart attack when Sonia called the Patriots classy and the Giants classless. She must have fallen asleep during the game … or maybe she turned the TV off before the clock ran out. Classy."
Rrreow. That's me, trying to make a frisky cat sound. And smiling.
"It never ceases to amaze me how someone can just start writing for a website and expect to have any credibility. I only read your opinion because I was inadvertently linked to it. Everyone is entitled to an opinion and that's fine. But the ability to reach millions via the web and try to influence them is another matter. As you say, it is my right to continue not to read; I will. And better yet, I will just continue to ignore your existence."
You are off to a hell of a start.