Johnson Remains Happy With Chiefs

Earlier this week, head coach Todd Haley praised veteran guard Brian Waters for his leadership qualities. This came months after an altercation between the two that reportedly had Waters asking for a trade out of Kansas City. Haley's compliments laid the worry of an ongoing beef between the two to rest.

When the news broke of a reported feud between Waters and Haley, fans had mixed emotions. Some backed their new head coach, while others backed the man who's been one of the few bright spots on a dismal team. Fans also expressed mixed feelings this offseason about embattled star running back Larry Johnson.

His litany of off-the-field issues and offensive comments need not be repeated. No one has forgotten his indiscretions. Some fans wanted him gone, and many media members were sure he'd be released or traded. Others, like LJ superfan and WPI's own C.E. Wendler, thought LJ was worth the baggage. Will he get in trouble again? Will he ever produce another 1,700-yard season? No one knew, and much to the surprise of many, Haley gave Johnson a clean slate.

Now, seemingly like Waters, Johnson has changed his tune. He's walking the line, saying the right things, acting like a real team player. A few months ago, he stopped publicly expressing his dislike for Kansas City and desire to be relocated.

He reiterated those thoughts to the media after Thursday's practice. He's now complimentary of his teammates, starting with his quarterback.

"[Matt Cassel] is the perfect guy for the job," said Johnson. "[He's] a guy that stands tall and [has] obviously been with a team that's been to the Super Bowl, so he knows what it takes."

He's also complimentary of his coach and front office leadership.

"As far as what Pioli did in the offseason, he made it exciting for me to be a Chief," said Johnson. "I never thought we would get Ashley Lelie, Amani Toomer, Zach Thomas, Mike Brown, those type of players. Ever since I been here, we wouldn't go get those type of players that we got right now. Having those guys, including Matt Cassel, having those guys being a part of the Chiefs, made me excited to be a Chief because we actually feel with those guys we have a chance."

In the past, Johnson felt like Kansas City's success rested on his shoulders. If he didn't get the ball, the Chiefs didn't win. If he was unhappy, things weren't going to be good. Now, he's starting to understand the team concept. He understands there will soon be a roster of 53 players, and they don't revolve around him.

"It's not based off my happiness or my sadness to be a part of this team," said Johnson. "It's just the fact that we are organized and we're doing things to make this a team a 16-0 team and go to the playoffs. So this team's rise and falls don't stand on if I'm happy or if I'm mad here. Obviously we all have to do a job and my job is to do the best that I can on the field to make this team a better football team. Obviously guys that are taken in or taken out will be a part of that transition."

Johnson has not been shy about his crumbling relationship with Kansas City. He's said the city is tired of him and the feeling's mutual. Now, he's backing off those comments, saying not only is he still active in the community, but that his previous comments were directed toward a small group of individuals.

"I was really talking to a handful of people, I wasn't talking to the whole city," he said. "I was only talking to a handful of people that I've actually encountered that kind of turned their back on me, so to speak, so other than that I'm still here. I didn't put my house for sale. I didn't move."

Johnson seems to have transformed into a leader, but there are certainly people skeptical of his new-found team pride and humility after he lost a grievance that denied him just under $4 million in previously guaranteed money. There are those who say Johnson is just playing it straight now because of his pocketbook, and that he still dislikes Kansas City and wants out, but would rather have the money and tow the company line than be outspoken.

Johnson has an answer for those people, also.

"Obviously, if they wanted to get rid of me, they had a chance to get rid of me, but I made it clear that regardless of what happened it wasn't about the money," he said. "If it was about the money I would have held out my rookie year. The only reason why I did what I did to get that contract was I felt like I really deserved it for the things that I did. If they could cut me, they could cut me right now."

"Everybody knows in football, there's no such thing as guaranteed money. They could take it from me today. They could cut me today if they wanted to. It's not because I'm doing it for the money. As far as my legs can run, I'm pretty sure I could get a job anywhere else. Maybe not for the money I'm getting right now, but I'd surely be getting paid. It's just understanding my situation. My situation is to help this team."

Is Johnson really maturing and becoming a leader and team player, or is he just putting on an act to ensure his fat paychecks keep coming? It's hard to say. Can't it be both? Maybe Johnson realizes Haley and Pioli have started something good in Kansas City, while also realizing he needs to play it straight in order to keep his wallet full.

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