NFL

Inside the Surprising Fight Between Andrew Johnson and Cortland Finnegan

Andre Johnson was one of the best NFL receivers of his generation. However, he spent nearly his entire career with the Houston Texans, so he didn’t get the publicity he may have received with a higher-profile team. Johnson put up Hall of Fame-quality numbers; he even made Matt Schaub look like a good quarterback.

Despite this, outside of Houston, he may be best remembered for a single game against the Titans in 2010. What’s so memorable about the contest? Johnson got into a fight with Tennessee cornerback Cortland Finnegan.

Andre Johnson’s career

Johnson spent the first 12 seasons of his 14-year career with the Texans, who selected him with the third overall pick in the 2003 draft. He went on to catch 1,012 balls with the team, gaining 13,597 yards on those receptions and scoring 64 touchdowns, with another eight rushing touchdowns on 23 carries.

When Johnson was released by the Texans, he stayed in the AFC South and spent the 2015 season with the Colts, then ended his career with the Titans in 2016. He had just 50 catches for 588 yards and six touchdowns in those final two seasons. He played in four career playoff games — two each in the 2011 and 2012 seasons. In those games, Johnson had 25 receptions for 358 yards and a touchdown.

Per Pro Football Reference, the players Johnson is most similar to include Tim Brown, James Lofton, Cris Carter, and Steve Largent — all Hall of Famers, which makes a strong case for Johnson to one day be enshrined in Canton.

Johnson’s fight with Cortland Finnegan

On Nov. 28, 2010, the Texans hosted the Titans in a Week 12 battle. There was quite a bit of physicality between Johnson and Finnegan throughout the game, including hard hits and cheap shots. With just under eight minutes to go in the game, which the Texans won 20-0, things came to a head between the rivals.

Finnegan told Johnson to “watch this” before a play, and he gave the receiver a jab in coverage. This got under Johnson’s skin, which led to their fight. Both players were ejected and fined $25,000. Discussed the fight after the game, Johnson said Finnegan “tried to jam me because he thought I wasn’t looking. He snatched my helmet off. I snatched his off, and it went from there.”

The bad blood between the two continued for years later. When Johnson announced his retirement in 2016, Finnegan said his biggest regret was that he wished he “could have thrown some haymakers at Mr. Johnson.” He also alluded to wanting to fight Johnson if the players “could meet in a dark alley one of these days.”

Out-of-character for Johnson

The fight with Finnegan was out of character for Johnson, who was known throughout his career for having a quiet demeanor and gracious attitude. The humble player joined the Texans in the club’s second season, which allowed him to fly under the radar, even as he grew into a top receiver who made seven Pro Bowls in his career.

Johnson’s lack of self-publicity that many NFL players are known for nowadays even extended to his retirement. When Johnson decided to call it a career, he did so without a press conference. The news came via a simple announcement released by the Titans during the season.

He later held a retirement press conference a few months later, in April 2017, after he signed a one-day contract with the Texans to retire with the team for whom he remains the best offensive player in franchise history.