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Homecoming on the horizon

Since the dawn of free agency it's become a familiar theme: big star leaves for greener pastures, then returns to his former home wearing the "wrong" colors. These tales often share a common second verse: the returning veteran plays down the homecoming.<p>

As he returns home to his first and only other NFL home, Packers defensive end Joe Johnson is quick to join that refrain.

"I approach this game like any other," Johnson said. "This is a must-win game for us, just like the rest of them are. For me it's not any different than it is for anybody else. It might be slightly more emotional for me, but other than that, it's another game that we must win."

One thing that separates Johnson – one of the biggest prizes in this year's free agent market – from the usual story line is that his departure from New Orleans was on the quiet side. Johnson was undoubtedly one of the few bright spots in the Saints' disappointing run during his eight years there (49-79, one winning season). He ranks fifth on the franchise's all-time sack list and that he tallied 21 sacks and 131 tackles over the past two seasons combined, yet New Orleans didn't put up much of a fight to keep him home.

"I didn't make a decision to leave (New Orleans)," Johnson said, citing the Saints' unwillingness to meet his contract demands. "There was no decision to be made except for where I was going to move on from there to . . . In the beginning I was prepared to work things out and remain there, but that didn't work out.

"I think the majority of things happen for a reason; some things just happen. I try not to read too much into them because at that time and point you never really know and you kind of wreck yourself, rack your brain, trying to figure out why things happened instead of just going through and carrying on with life." Johnson signed with Green Bay this spring, still puzzled about how things turned out back in the Big Easy. He still has warm feelings about New Orleans, where two of daughters still live, and expects a friendly homecoming in the Superdome Sunday.

"I've got the feeling that a lot of the fans understand that it's just a business and things like that happen," Johnson said. "I expect a pretty warm reception."

Although he claims it's "just another game," Johnson is quick to admit he appreciates the fans of his former team. If Johnson doesn't show the same courtesy to Aaron Brooks and the rest of the Saints offense, he's sure fans in the Big Easy will understand.


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