"That could have easily ended my career," Johnson told Seahawks.NET. "If you don't get lucky in the NFL, and some team's not looking for a kicker with experience because of an injury, or someone fouling up, that can really jeopardize your coming back. Even if you're #1 on the short list – if people don't need the short list…"
Johnson was released on August 26, 1991, along with a few other names known to Seahawks diehards (receiver Paul Skansi, linebacker Darren Comeaux, and defensive end Michael Sinclair, who would land back on the practice squad two days later and play 11 years for the team), he told the Seattle Times that it wasn't exactly a surprise. "I think we all knew what was going to happen when they drafted Kasay back in April," he said. At the time of his release, no team was looking for a kicker - rosters were basically closed. It took three weeks before another team came calling - the Atlanta Falcons, led by Jerry Glanville, one of the more intriguing football coaches ever to draw breath.
for leaving tickets for Elvis at the will call window, engaging in alleged
cheap-shot retaliation battles with Bengals coach Sam Wyche
during his time in Houston, and telling a game official that "NFL"
stands for "Not For Long", Glanville was (and still is) a firebrand
and a true original. He's also still a coach - at
SAN FRANCISCO - OCTOBER 18, 1992: Kicker Norm Johnson #9 of the Atlanta Falcons attempts a field goal during a game against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park on October 18, 1992 in San Francisco, California. The 49ers won 56-17. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)
"It was a blast," Johnson said of his time with Glanville. "I was scared before I got there – not sure I wanted to play or him from the bits and pieces I knew – but once I got there, I called my wife after two weeks and said, 'I'll follow this guy anywhere.' He was a lot of fun, he appreciated the veterans, and he re-energized me for playing football. He took the kicking game seriously, because he came from a special teams background.
"I had a great special teams coach – Bobby April, who was brand new to the NFL, and we just had fun. (Glanville) was just a hoot – that was very enjoyable. At least it was enjoyable while Jerry was there. They fired him (after the 1993 season, the Falcons' second straight 6-10 record) and brought in June Jones, and that was a very poor decision."
thing that his time in
know, I told a lot of people … once I left the Seahawks, for whatever reason,
there was a big weight lifted off my shoulders. I really enjoyed being treated
like a veteran when I came to
Johnson didn't know is that despite his efficiency, he would last only one
season longer in
"I was 20 of 24 on 1994, and the only four I missed were over 50 yards. So, with the Falcons, I go 26 of 27 one year, I make everything under 50 the next year … and they cut me. They brought in Frank Ganz, and Frank Ganz always brings in his own people. I was warned by Eddie Murray – he said, ‘Watch out for Frank Ganz – he'll try to bring somebody in so that he can put his tag on ‘em. He did it to me in my 14th year, he did it to Jan Stenerud in his 13th year." And I thought, 'Oh great, I'm going into my 14th year." I later found out that Ganz wanted to cut me after 1993, the year I went 26 of 27, for Todd Peterson, who was in camp that year. He kept me reluctantly, but got rid of me after I didn't miss anything inside of 50.
tough," Johnson said about the instability of the NFL life for most players.
"Some kickers are in extremely envious positions, and I had that for
a while, I loved playing for the Seahawks, but once Ken Behring came in, it
wasn't much fun anymore. He kinda ruined that. I loved playing in
his performance in
After a 98-point performance for the Steelers in 1998, Johnson signed a two-year contract with the Eagles in August of 1999. ''Norm, we felt, has proven his consistency and so we decided to bring him in and compete with David Akers for that position,'' first-year coach Andy Reid said at the time. Johnson's decrease in scoring belied his continued efficiency - in '98, he converted 26 of 31 attempted field goals, and 11 of 14 from the 40-to-49-yard range. After one average season, Johnson would be battling it out with another young player - third-year kicker David Akers - but as he said, the Eagles were a great deal more honest about the situation than the Seahawks had been.
"(I) didn't have a very good season in 1999," he said. For the first time since 1989, his field goal percentage slipped under 70 percent. "David Akers was there as well – he was doing kickoffs, I was doing field goals, and I knew my days were numbered. I liked Dave, and I think I helped him transition into the NFL. We became close, and part of the reason they kept us both is that I think they saw him as raw talent, and me as the veteran. If they could get us together with my experience, I could help him get into the NFL, and I was fine with that. I knew I was done in Philly, and I knew I'd be looking for another team when they handed the reins over to Dave. I loved my time there. I loved Andy Reid, and it was Donovan McNabb's first year there. John Harbaugh, my coach, was great. I have nothing bad to say about that.
6 Jan 1996: Kicker Norm Johnson #9 of the Pittsburgh Steelers focuses on the ball just before impact on a field goal attempt during the Steelers 40-21 AFC Divisional Playoff victory over the Buffalo Bills at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
"Looking back now, I probably should have tried to land in a training camp the following year, but I chose not to – I just walked away. I didn't have any regrets until recently, and I certainly could never go back now, but there could have been the right situation for me."
In truth, Johnson knew his time was up. He had seen the fates of players who couldn't accept the hard truth, and he didn't want to land there. "It's funny you ask, because I had this discussion with my wife last night," he said when asked when he realized his NFL career was over. "I could tell that I couldn't do some of the things that I wanted to do. I felt that I could still kick, but probably not to where my abilities should be, or what I had done. I watched and admired Steve Largent – he walked away from the game in his 12th season when he was still on top and could play, but he wanted to move on. And I saw other guys just hang on because that's all they had. The other players would kind of laugh at them – make fun of them – because they couldn't play anymore. You'd watch film, and these guys just couldn't play. They were there as hangers-on. So I was in the locker room, and I saw both examples, and I said (about Largent), "That's how I want to be; I don't want to be like (the hangers-on).
"So, when I could not play at the level I needed to play at, and I was losing my drive to continue playing, it wasn't going to happen. That's when I knew. I said, ‘Enough's enough – I'm done. I'm not hanging around for any records, I'm ready for a more stable life with my family,' and I could tell in my heart that it was time."
Johnson retired with a sense of pride about his accomplishments - this former undrafted free agent still stands as the NFL's fifth all-time leading scorer with 1,736 points. "Oh, yeah. I'm proud of that. I think I was always kind of a ‘no-name.' The Class of '82 as far as kickers was Gary Anderson, Morten Anderson, and me. They were high draft picks, and bigger in the media, and I always saw myself as kind of a sleeper in the background. I don't know that people put me up there (historically) very high.
didn't watch much football while he acquired other business and philanthropic
interests. He has become a successful real estate agent in
asked Norm Johnson for a few quick-hit associations about players and
other figures from his past.
Jack Patera: "Hmmmm, Jack… I was going to say 'Coach,' but 'Jack.'"
Mike Mcormack: "Solid."
Chuck Knox: "Serious."
Steve Largent: "Fabulous."
Curt Warner: "Electric."
Tom Flores: "If I had to guess, the words wouldn't be too kind."
Rusty Tillman: "Intense."
February of 2006, two parts of his life coincided when the Seahawks and Steelers
met in Super Bowl XL. Though a former member of both teams,
Johnson was steadfastly on the
Johnson has seen the recent incarnations of the Seahawks, and he said that the level of sheer talent in comparison to his old teams is mind-boggling. "You asked me some questions earlier about comparing teams," he said. "You look at this team, and they have quite a few superstars, people that you could really point out to be superstars, really game-breaking guys, Pro Bowl players and compare that back to those years we were talking about, 1983-1984, and it seems like these guys really have a lot more weapons than we really had. And I think with those weapons and Mike Holmgren at the helm anything can happen, and I'm really excited. I'm sure our defense is going to get stouter and I'm expecting great things."
Johnson's life after football is full and happy, and there's little question that one of the things that had brought him the most pride is his involvement in the Boys and Girls Clubs of Kitsap County. In fact, it's fair to say that without his time and dedication, that organization wouldn't exist.
wanted to figure out how to give back to this community and get involved,
and quite a few years ago I got the idea to start a Boys and Girls Club in
the area," he said. "There wasn't really one, and that was a three-year
process, and I got some other people that wanted to do the same thing. Our
mayor (in Bremerton), who used to be the mayor of Bellevue, Cary Bozeman …
he was the Boys and Girls Clubs' Executive Director, and kind of put the bug
in my ear and said what it was going to take. He said it was going to take
seven to 10 real dedicated people who wanted to see it happen and just fight
to make it happen. I started it with one partner, just us two, and now it's
thriving. Now, there are two that are open in
"I haven't been involved (as much) lately, once they got up and running. I'm involved from the board standpoint, I'm not involved with the day to day stuff, they have people in place that do that, and there are, I don't know what our numbers are, but there are probably 75 to 80 kids in the Bremerton one and there's even more than that in our newer one in Port Orchard, In Port Orchard, that thing happened really fast and there was a tremendous need down there, and before we opened our doors we had 75 kids. Business is booming, more kids than we've had almost … I think we've had to turn kids away because we don't have enough of a facility yet, so it's something were working on, but funding's always tough."
Johnson has beaten the odds several times in his life - through his undrafted
status and roster cuts and dysfunctional franchises and the strange ways in
which the NFL life can turn. The most important challenge
that he has met head-on, and his most important victory, is the creation of
a happy and fulfilling life after football.
If you'd like to help with the
Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET, a staff writer for Football Outsiders,
a contributing author to Pro Football Prospectus 2007, and he writes
NFL previews for the