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View Full Version : Merill - Larry Johnson runs very well with a chip on his shoulder


Count Zarth
11-27-2005, 01:43 AM
Anyone that ever doubted LJ...just read these quotes. He's a good guy.

Larry Johnson runs very well with a chip on his shoulder

By ELIZABETH MERRILL

The Kansas City Star

Some hate mail arrived the other day. It was crude and profane and said Larry, we’d better not see you on this side of town. Maybe it made Larry Johnson lower his helmet and plow ahead for 4 more yards.

Maybe it was exactly what he expected.

There are some who wonder whether L.J. will ever allow himself to be happy. It’s 2 o’clock Friday, the sun is shining, the locker room is full of the aroma of chicken and mashed potatoes. Johnson is coming off a 211-yard game, a Chiefs record, and everyone wants to talk to him.

He slips to the hallway, away from the lingering media, and explains why he doesn’t fit in. He knows this will probably lead to more hate mail. He can’t help it.

“I love this team,” Johnson says. “I love my teammates. I’d do anything for them dudes, and most of them know that, too. I just don’t … I am very uncomfortable with the people here and the way they see me and the way they sometimes treat me. It has nothing to do with football. It has to do with when I’m out on the town.

“You get a young guy, tattooed up, diamonds everywhere, who can talk and speak his mind but also back it up, and it kind of rubs people the wrong way. Usually out there, everybody’s old. It’s like the Bush Republican crowd. Nobody’s going to want to accept something strange. They’re always going to fear what they don’t understand and don’t know.”

Johnson and Kansas City, it seems, never quite got each other. When he was drafted in the first round three years ago, Chiefs fans balked over the idea of picking a running back, in Priest Holmes’ town, when the team so desperately needed defensive players. When he bristled over the infamous “take off the diaper” comment from coach Dick Vermeil last year, fans wondered whether Johnson was more prima donna than primo back.

Now Johnson is the man, he’s the starter on a Chiefs team with playoff hopes, and he’s bulled his way into the hearts of many with his 849 yards, his game-winning touchdown as the clock ran out against Oakland, his 5.3 yards per carry.

And in some ways, L.J. knows he can never be happy.

“He’s very competitive,” Chiefs fullback Tony Richardson says. “That’s something I told him: Don’t ever allow anyone to take that away from you. Because that’s why you’re in the position you’re in now.

“If everybody had that type of drive, they’d be at the highest level of everything they do. It’s not a bad thing to want to play. You shouldn’t come into the National Football League if you don’t want to play.”

L.J. has always been a worrier. He says it’s genetics, because his mom frets all the time.

When Johnson ran for 211 yards at Houston, he smiled and hugged Vermeil. The moment lasted just a few minutes. By the time Johnson got in the locker room, he was quiet and brooding and declined interviews. He says he’s tired of giving the local media more fodder. Earlier in the week, he said, some comments he made on the radio were misinterpreted.

But sometimes, when Johnson opens up, he reveals himself as more vulnerable than angry, more weary than bitter.

“I worry about every little thing that goes on,” Johnson says. “I worry about if I mess up, I worry if we don’t win these last couple of games will they blame me?[

“There are a lot of stressful situations that I worry about all the time more than being happy or breaking a single-game record. I’m worried about a lot of things that are maybe out of my control or in my control. If I can knock those things out of the way, maybe I can be a happier person.”

Johnson was 6 when he developed his aggressive — some call it angry — running style. The son of a coach, Johnson didn’t want anyone to think he was playing because Dad was holding the clipboard. So from 6 to 26, he always ran as if he had something to prove.

He ran for 2,159 yards and 29 touchdowns as a senior at State College Area High School, in the shadow of Penn State, then spent three years as a backup for the Nittany Lions before finally getting his chance. He led the nation in rushing that year. He wondered why he didn’t play earlier.

Then the Steelers came to visit Johnson on campus. A Pennsylvania kid, he dreamed of wearing the black and gold. On draft day, the Steelers traded up, and there was speculation that they had their eye on Johnson. They selected USC safety Troy Polamalu; the Chiefs took Johnson as their No. 27 pick.

And president/general manager Carl Peterson was roasted for adding another running back. Peterson says even Vermeil didn’t agree with the pick, because the coach wanted some defensive help. But with Holmes coming off a hip injury, Peterson considered Johnson a talented insurance policy.

“I had personally gone to his workout at Penn State,” Peterson says. “He was extraordinarily talented — big, strong, fast. I had lengthy conversations with Joe Paterno about him, and I asked, ‘Why did you platoon this guy?’ … Joe was candid and said, ‘Well, in hindsight we probably should’ve played him more because we won more games.’

“Who would’ve guessed that Priest comes off hip surgery and sets an NFL record for rushing the ensuing year? So the young man goes to the (bench).”

L.J. has always hated that diaper comment. If he played on the East Coast, or a bigger market, he says it wouldn’t have taken on a life of its own, and he wouldn’t be branded with the Pampers label 14 months later.

Vermeil just says it was a mistake. Holmes went down with an ankle injury last year, and Vermeil, in his weekly news conference, said Johnson needed to “take off the diaper and go play.”

Johnson was upset by the remark, and it created roughly a week’s worth of scuttlebutt.

“Normally the term I use is, ‘Take ’em out of the pajamas,’ ” Vermeil says. “It’s an NFL coaches’ term. That day, for some reason, without even thinking about it, I said diapers, and of course it created a big controversy. But I was the guy in the wrong.

“I think Larry went through a real transition, and some of it was positive and some of it was negative. But it was all in growth for what he is today. I go through growth every year as a head coach. But I’m very proud of what he’s doing.”

Johnson downplays talk that there may be tension between him and Vermeil. He says it’s natural that he’d be closest to running backs coach James Saxon because they spend the most time together.

Vermeil and Peterson downplay Johnson’s occasional media rant. Like when Johnson has publicly said he should be playing more, and that if the Chiefs don’t need him, maybe they should trade him.

Peterson says those words depict passion. He tries to counsel his young running back, telling him sometimes it’s better to let your actions speak.

“I think sometimes he is so bluntly honest that people misinterpret him,” Peterson says. “The (questions) about, ‘Do you care about Priest? Do you have a relationship with Priest?’ Yeah, he does. He sees him every day. He has great admiration for Priest. He’s learned a great deal from Priest, and I don’t know why people don’t want to sit down and talk to him about it.

“Maybe he doesn’t want to. But he’ll talk about it with me.”

Every week, the running backs meet at Richardson’s house for barbecue and film study. Johnson never misses. He says Richardson has been like a brother to him.

Shortly after Diapergate, Richardson and some teammates decided to have some fun. They covered his locker with yellow caution tape and put up a sign that said, “Danger, stay away. Man with mouth can explode.”

“If they didn’t like him,” Peterson says, “believe me, they wouldn’t do anything.”

L.J. has always been hard to bring down. He’s 230 pounds of sheer momentum, he’s dragging tacklers on the way to the end zone.

Since Holmes went down with a spinal injury last month, nothing, it seems, can stop Johnson. He was chosen AFC offensive player of the week on Tuesday. He’s had 100 yards by halftime for two straight weeks.

When you’re a running back, Johnson says, you get to play with emotion. Quarterbacks have to keep a cool head. Linemen focus on the task at hand. When Johnson takes the handoff, he’s letting out anger, fear and the frustrations of the week.

He has plenty on his mind. On Friday, Johnson mentions an upcoming court date for an assault charge. The woman accuser is now disputing the charge, and Johnson says he’s been painted around town as a womanizer and a criminal.

“I’ve never had any type of hate mail until I got out here,” Johnson says. “And I’ve gotten some real crude hate mail sent to me. It’s all just perception of how people really see me.

“A quiet, honest guy. That’s who I am. I don’t even like to talk much. I prefer not to talk. But if something’s wrong, if something’s in my heart to say, I’ve got to say it.”

Johnson leans against a wall, and his tattoos pop out of his white T-shirt. A teammate walks by to razz him. Johnson lowers his head and smiles.

He’s happy sometimes. On the field, when he’s running, in the locker room, when he’s joking, L.J. is happy. He says he wants to do well for Richardson and the veterans who have never been to a Super Bowl. He’s happy he’s gained their trust.

But even on a carefree Friday after practice, when the linemen are happily devouring their Popeye’s, Johnson is almost stoic. He heads off alone, the future ahead of him, six games to prove himself. He doesn’t dare smile.

“I like being pissed off,” he says. “I know that sometimes when I’m happy, something usually comes along and knocks me back down to earth. So I like keeping it at a real chill level, being prepared for anything, something good, something bad.”

tk13
11-27-2005, 01:50 AM
I can't believe he said the Bush thing... ROFL He's gonna get 10 times the hate mail for that than anything else he's done...

Dunit35
11-27-2005, 01:51 AM
LJ can definately create a nice story for some media D-bag. If being at a chill level makes him dominate out there then I hope he stays that way.

Count Zarth
11-27-2005, 01:52 AM
Stay angry, LJ. Your hate has made you powerful!

http://www.rebelshaven.com/Images/Palpatine/Palpatine004.jpg

Count Zarth
11-27-2005, 02:08 AM
He’s happy sometimes. On the field, when he’s running, in the locker room, when he’s joking, L.J. is happy. He says he wants to do well for Richardson and the veterans who have never been to a Super Bowl. He’s happy he’s gained their trust.

Gotta love LJ.

mikey23545
11-27-2005, 02:31 AM
What a whiny little mangina...

He doesn't need to take off the diaper, he needs to take off the tampon...

Tribal Warfare
11-27-2005, 02:39 AM
It looks like Larry "The Red Rage" Johnson can't wait for Vermeil and company to leave town.

Fruit Ninja
11-27-2005, 02:46 AM
Nothing to do with them leaving town. I think he is ready to leave the town. lol

HemiEd
11-27-2005, 05:42 AM
I just hope he stays healthy, he is a keeper and could end up being the best.

Big Chief Homer
11-27-2005, 07:10 AM
If he keeps getting hate mail,I dont think he sticks around long.I just dont believe he wants to be in KC.(ala Eli Manning,not wanting to be in SD)He said hes not comfortable there.He has a few years left on his contract so I expect a few holdouts along the way.

I hope he becomes happy and stays,but I seriously doubt it.

Count Zarth
11-27-2005, 07:14 AM
LJ will stop getting hate mail when he wins the league rushing title.

robot monster
11-27-2005, 07:23 AM
How many people around town were saying terrible things about him before he had even had a chance to prove himself? I would be pissed off at them too.

milkman
11-27-2005, 07:24 AM
LJ will stop getting hate mail when he wins the league rushing title.

And then he won't be angry anymore, and will lose his burst.

htismaqe
11-27-2005, 09:28 AM
What a whiny little mangina...

He doesn't need to take off the diaper, he needs to take off the tampon...

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Speaking of manginas...