"Off the field, I just need to really concentrate more on staying to myself," Johnson told me after practice one day. "Once you feel like a family wants you – for example, the Bears organization – when I feel like the organization really cares about me, then I can really start putting my focus more into them. Because it's hard sometimes when you don't feel like you're wanted."
Sounds like a young man who has realized the error of his ways and wants to give back to the people who have supported him throughout his myriad tough times, am I right?
One problem: I conducted that interview on Aug. 7 of last year.
Before the police raided his home in the Chicago suburb of Gurnee and discovered a disturbing collection of military-grade weapons, dangerous rottweilers, and illegal drugs.
"The first thing that I would like to say is that I apologize to the Bears organization, my teammates, and my family for causing a distraction that I did cause this week," Johnson said on Dec. 15. "Obviously, that's not my intention. My main focus is on this championship season and how well we're doing. I hate to be a deterrent from all the good that's going on here at Halas Hall."
And before he decided to go clubbing at Ice Bar the very next night and was witness to the shooting death of his bodyguard and best friend, Willie Posey.
"A lot of the tough times that I have encountered are some of the decisions that I've made in my life," Johnson said on Dec. 19. "And some of the decisions I have made, I need to get them corrected."
And before he was sentenced to 120 days in a Cook County jail for parole violation, where he served 60 long days behind bars and was released for good behavior.
"Your honor, I don't believe I'm a man who belongs in jail," he told Judge John Moran on Mar. 15, who obviously disagreed with him.
And before he was suspended by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for the first eight games – the suspension could have been reduced to six games had Johnson simply stayed out of trouble – of the 2007 season, potentially cutting his $510,000 salary in half.
"I am looking at it like a six-game suspension," Johnson said on Jun. 5, "because I definitely am very confident that I'm capable of doing everything that he's asked me to do and more."
If you read between the lines back in December, it wasn't difficult to detect that general manager Jerry Angelo wanted to sever ties with him when he first heard about the raid in Gurnee. It was head coach Lovie Smith who remained Johnson's biggest supporter and thoroughly believed that he could rehabilitate his troubled tackle. Angelo ultimately agreed, but only if he was on Dean Wormer-like double-secret probation for the foreseeable future.
But once Johnson found the police blotter again in Gilbert, AZ the day after Smith's offseason training program came to an end, Angelo did not feel the need to wait for the results of any blood test and pink-slipped his biggest headache Monday afternoon.
"We are upset and embarrassed by Tank's actions last week," Angelo said in a statement released on the team's website. "He compromised the credibility of our organization. We made it clear to him that he had no room for error. Our goal was to help someone through a difficult period in his life, but the effort needs to come from both sides. It didn't, and we have decided to move on."
Dvoracek was a third-round pick in 2006, but he missed his entire rookie year on injured reserve and is yet to take a regular season snap. Garay entered the league as a sixth-rounder in 2003, yet he has never started an NFL game and was inactive more often than not a year ago. Adams comes over as a free agent from the 49ers, who essentially benched him because he was not a good fit in head coach Mike Nolan's 3-4 defensive scheme.
Jettisoning Johnson could hurt this team on the field, but off the field, it was absolutely necessary and long overdue.
The front office kept throwing him life preservers, yet he continued to fall overboard. His teammates showered him with support, but he betrayed their loyalty by only thinking of himself. The majority of Bears fans were willing to give him another chance, even though a leopard can't change its spots.
Once is an accident. Twice is coincidence. Three times is a trend.
I wanted to believe him. I was impressed with the words that came out of his mouth and the humility with which he expressed them. I found myself pulling for him and honestly thought that he had been scared straight.
Maybe he could defy the odds and live up to his new goal of becoming the NFL Man of the Year one day.
Looks like I was fooled. So were the Bears. We all were.
"Like any little kid," he also told me in that interview last August, "any kid who's neglected always gets into trouble."
Maybe one day Johnson will realize he's not a little kid anymore.
|John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and Editor in Chief of BearReport.com. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.|