View Full Version : Posnanski: LJ's the one answer to emerge this season

01-02-2006, 02:30 AM

Johnson’s the one answer to emerge from this season
Kansas City Star

Nobody knew quite how to feel after Sunday’s game. Sad? Proud? Aggravated? Nostalgic? The locker room was an emotional cocktail. The Chiefs pounded Cincinnati at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs also missed the playoffs. Dick Vermeil also announced his retirement. All was wild on New Year’s Day. Everybody felt dizzy.

“I’m not playing any guessing games,” Chiefs Pro Bowl guard Brian Waters was saying. But how could you help it? Once Pittsburgh beat the useless Lions and knocked Kansas City into another blank postseason, questions were scattered all over the locker room, like dirty socks. Who will be the Chiefs next coach? Who will call the plays? Who will run the defense? Will Will Shields retire? Will Willie Roaf? Is Priest Holmes coming back? Will the offense continue to rack up points? Will the defense finally emerge? Will the Chiefs ever, ever, ever go to the Super Bowl again?

Yes, Dick Vermeil leaves more question marks than the Riddler. And in his farewell he posed the question: Is this team in better shape than when Vermeil arrived? I say yes. See, it doesn’t matter who is the next coach, the next coordinator, the next anything. We’ve seen the future of the Chiefs, and its name is Larry Johnson.

Yes, Larry Johnson is the Cracker Jack prize that comes out of this exasperating 2005 season. Larry Johnson is what comes out of the crazy, thrilling, maddening, entertaining and ultimately frustrating Vermeil era. Look: Vermeil’s Chiefs scored 400 or more points the last four seasons (no other team did that) and didn’t win a playoff game. Vermeil’s Chiefs set 45 offensive team records and didn’t win a playoff game.

This season, Vermeil’s Chiefs beat three division champions, scored 78 more points than they gave up, won seven of eight home games and didn’t make the playoffs. That more or less sums up the five years with Dick Vermeil.

But this was also the year Larry Johnson came out. It wasn’t easy with Vermeil. There was Diapergate. There were a few angry comments. All of it is gone now. Johnson ran for 201 yards on Sunday, his ninth straight 100-yard rushing game. He broke the team rushing record, finishing with 1,750 yards (most in the AFC).

He scored his 20th touchdown on an amazing 14-yard run when he ran left, spun away from Cincinnati’s David Pollack, reversed, ran right across the field and scored. You want to talk about looking like Jim Brown. Later, for kicks, Johnson scored his 21st touchdown. He’s 26 years old.

There are so many number games you can play with Larry Johnson. You take his nine starts and project them out over a full season and, well, it’s mind-blowing — 464 carries (an NFL record), 2,402 yards (an NFL record), 28 touchdowns (an NFL record). I mean, these are like Bo Jackson’s numbers out of the old Super Tecmo Bowl video game.

Still, it isn’t his numbers that get the blood pumping. It’s the running. There’s nobody like him in the NFL. Priest Holmes was an amazing running back for the Chiefs — he set up blocks, he never missed the hole, he caught the ball, he blocked, he scored touchdowns — and Holmes may yet be amazing again. But it’s different with Johnson. He runs like he’s indestructible. He runs like something out of comic books. He blasts through tackles, tears away from linebackers, runs away from safeties.

Chiefs president/CEO/general manager/Father Time Carl Peterson remembers exactly how he felt watching Larry Johnson work out in Happy Valley. This was 2003. Peterson was the only Chiefs representative at the workout. He saw this guy who was 6 feet 2, weighed 230 pounds. This guy could knock over buildings. And then he sprinted his 40 yards, and Peterson clicked his stopwatch — 4.37 seconds. Blazing fast. More than anything, though, Peterson thought Larry Johnson had this presence, something like greatness. He talked to coach Joe Paterno. He talked to Johnson’s father. Peterson left feeling awed.

And on draft day 2003, Peterson could not help but keep his eye on Johnson. He knew the Chiefs needed defense. And in case he did not know, Vermeil kept reminding him. “Defense,” Vermeil kept saying. The Chiefs had the 16th pick, and by then all the top defenders were gone.

But Johnson was available. Peterson was tempted to make the pick then. But then Pittsburgh called offering a trade, and the Chiefs traded down. “I thought for sure the Steelers would take him,” Peterson says.
Pittsburgh took Troy Polamalu instead. Peterson knew for sure someone would take Johnson before the Chiefs made their 27th pick. But nobody did. When the Chiefs’ time came around, Vermeil pleaded for a defensive guy. He kept saying that defensive player’s name. Peterson listened to his coach, his friend, his mentor.

Then he called New York.

“We’re taking Larry Johnson, Penn State University,” he announced.

Let’s face it, Peterson got ripped for that pick. Peterson does get ripped. He got ripped more when the Chiefs defense utterly collapsed at the end of the 2003 season and again in 2004. He got ripped even more when Vermeil felt more comfortable putting Derrick Blaylock into games after Holmes got hurt.

Well, no matter how you may feel about the Chiefs president/CEO/general manager/lightning rod, you have to give it up on this one. He was right. His instincts were dead on. Larry Johnson is some kind of special.

And even though Sunday was an odd day — with the big victory, with the playoff letdown, with Vermeil’s retirement — I don’t know, at the end of the day it still seems like the Chiefs are close to something good.

Sure, they have to find a playoff-ready coach. They have to figure out what to do with a coaching staff that did win 10 games this year. They have to get this defense to take the next step. They may have to replace one of the greatest guards to ever play professional football.

But they have talent. They have just about everybody signed to contracts. They have Arrowhead Stadium. And, most of all, they have Larry Johnson. After Sunday’s game, Johnson talked to the media. He did not say anything too revealing. He did say it felt great to hear people chant his name. He did say that he feels strong enough to run next week. He did say about Vermeil: “We finally got our relationship right, and now he’s leaving. That’s kind of heartbreaking.”

He did say about the fans: “This is the Show-Me State. I have tried to show them.”

And he did say that he was excited about the future. After watching Johnson run for nine games, I have to admit feeling the same way. Yes, there are a million questions coming out of this lost season. But there’s also one big answer.

Hammock Parties
01-02-2006, 03:06 AM
It's going to be a long offseason.

01-02-2006, 03:08 AM
It's going to be a long offseason.But an exciting one. Change brings out the excitement inherent in all things new and different.

01-02-2006, 03:09 AM
It will be a wild ride. I just hope it starts within the week.

the Talking Can
01-02-2006, 05:48 AM
But an exciting one. Change brings out the excitement inherent in all things new and different.

yup, change is good...we'll have lots to talk about, and it will help ease the pain of stuff like this:

"This season, Vermeil’s Chiefs beat three division champions, scored 78 more points than they gave up, won seven of eight home games and didn’t make the playoffs. That more or less sums up the five years with Dick Vermeil."

Not making the playoffs this year is a freaking crime.

01-02-2006, 06:39 AM
But an exciting one. Change brings out the excitement inherent in all things new and different.