The Larry Johnson that Kansas City Chiefs fans remember for his back-to-back 1,700-yard seasons on the ground is vastly different than the 41-year-old man who has now been out of the NFL for nearly a decade.
Some past or present player will invariably say something during Super Bowl week that will show up on the other team’s bulletin board. However, Johnson’s broadsides aimed at Tom Brady, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the NFL are so far out of bounds that no one will need instant replay to decide that he didn’t get two feet down.
Larry Johnson was the irresistible force at running back
Larry Johnson’s senior year at Penn State was one of the best ever by a Division I running back. Johnson racked up 257 yards against Northwestern, 279, vs. Illinois and 327 against Indiana in a five-game span on his way to 2,087 yards and 20 touchdowns. Still, he finished a distant third to quarterbacks Carson Palmer of USC and Brad Banks of Iowa in the Heisman Trophy balloting.
The Kansas City Chiefs made Johnson the second running back selected late in the first round of the 2003 NFL draft, but he rarely played as a rookie after falling out of favor with head coach Dick Vermeil. Injuries to Priest Holmes and Derrick Blaylock got Johnson on the field enough to roll up 581 yards and nine touchdowns in 2004.
The 2005 season was his breakthrough. When injuries struck again, Vermeil turned Johnson into a battering ram. Despite starting in only nine games, he finished with 336 carries for 1,750 yards and 20 TDs. When Herm Edwards took over as coach the following season, Johnson carried a league-high 416 times for 1,789 yards and 17 scores, which earned him first-team All-Pro status.
That would be Johnson’s last normal season in what ended up being a nine-year NFL career. The 2007 season ended after eight games because of a foot injury, and team and league suspensions – after his fourth alleged altercation with a woman in five years – chopped four games from his 2008 season.
The downward spiral continued
The Kansas City Chiefs suspended running back Larry Johnson midway through the 2009 season after subpar results on the field and his run-ins with head coach Todd Haley, reporters, and fans. After being released by the Chiefs, Johnson played half a season with the Cincinnati Bengals. He played sparingly the following two seasons with the Washington Redskins and Miami Dolphins.
Johnson finished his career with 6,223 yards and 55 touchdowns on the ground. He also made 154 catches with six more scores.
In a 2017 interview with the Washington Post, Johnson said he had no recollection of two of his NFL seasons, an issue he attributed to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). He also said he battles suicidal impulses originating from demons urging him to jump from a roof.
Johnson appears to have been affected in other ways as well. He has been criticized for antisemitic comments and social media posts disputing the Holocaust. He has also embraced any number of conspiracy theories, which brings us to the NFL’s conference championship games.
Larry Johnson’s conspiracy theory is wild
Retired running back Larry Johnson was full of opinions and conspiracy theories after the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won their respective NFL conference championship games last weekend.
In one posting on Twitter, he implied that the fix was in once Tampa was awarded the honor of hosting Super Bowl 55. In his mind, there was something suspicious and/or sinister about Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and Antonio Brown all arriving in Tampa this season. Obviously, he’s overlooked the effects of trades and free agency on a team that was already competitive.
Johnson took it a step further by implying some sort of Bucs connection to the occult with a montage of Brown, Brady, and Gronkowski that simply defies description. “I told people years ago that athletes were being recruited into the occult. People tend to stay sleep in things they truly love,” he wrote.
If the rest of the buildup to Super Bowl 55 is going to be this bizarre, then we clearly have not left 2020 in the rearview mirror.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.