Johnson, Brunell on Similar Tracks

Brad Johnson and Mark Brunell are at similar points in their careers and in similar situations. See what the two veteran quarterbacks have to say about their career paths as their teams, the Minnesota Vikings and Washington Redskins, get set to play each other Monday night.

They are practically the only two players on the Vikings or Washington Redskins rosters who can remember what they were actually doing when our nation celebrated its bicentennial – its 200th anniversary in 1976.

And with a combined 29 years of NFL experience under their belts, starting quarterbacks Brad Johnson and Mark Brunell will be two of the oldest players on the field Monday night at FedEx Field. Both quarterbacks celebrate birthdays later next week (Johnson turns 38 on Wednesday, Brunell turns 36 on Sept. 17). While both quarterbacks admittedly are deeply entrenched in the sunset of their NFL careers, both have appeared to resurrect themselves.

After starting just four games for Tampa Bay in 2004, Johnson was signed as an insurance policy last year to be the Vikings' backup. He became the starter when Daunte Culpepper suffered a season-ending knee injury and played well enough to allow the team to deal Culpepper and make Johnson their starter this season.

Brunell started just three games with Jacksonville in 2003. He signed with the Redskins in 2004 and started nine games. Last season, he was the Redskins' regular starter and played in all 16 games.

"With Mark, we kind of know what we've got," head coach Joe Gibbs said. "We have a guy that's been super productive up here. I think if you look last year as his overall year, I think he had one of his best years."

Brunell threw for 3,050 yards, completing nearly 58 percent of his passes while throwing 23 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. His quarterback rating was an impressive 85.9.

"I think he's worked extremely hard in the offseason and I think you have a guy there that you feel like you have a lot of confidence in," Gibbs said. "Our football team has confidence in him. He's been a very good leader for us. He's a first-class person and highly competitive."

Johnson started the final nine games last season for the Vikings, who went 7-2 under his guidance. Johnson was efficient, completing 63 percent of his passes for an 88.9 quarterback rating, and a 12-to-4 touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio.

"I didn't get to play the first couple games of the season, but I worked like I always have just in case something happened," Johnson said. "I felt like I proved my worth last year. You just never know in this business."

With nearly three full decades of NFL experience between the two quarterbacks, the respect factor is naturally mutual.

"Brad has had a great career. He's won a Super Bowl, he's a smart, reliable, tough player and he's just had a great career," Brunell said. "He's been a real good football player and I've always enjoyed talking with him. I've got a lot of respect for him."

Brunell knows there is a fine line in the NFL, though, between being an experienced veteran and an aging out-of-date player.

"Yeah, I do get a little tired of (talking about age), but I would rather be 36 and know what I'm doing than 25 and not know what I'm doing," Brunell said. "I guess I'm pretty happy with where I am at right now."

So is Johnson. After shopping around after the 2004 season trying to sell himself as a starter, Johnson chose to settle for a backup role in Minnesota, with the hopes of proving himself once again. Now, on the eve of the 2006 season, the Vikings are placing all of their hopes on him.

Johnson looks forward to a homecoming, of sorts, when he returns to Washington, where he started 28 games during the 1999-2000 seasons.

"I felt like I did good things in Washington," Johnson said. "The fans and players treated me great there. We were 10-6 and went to the playoffs for the first time since 1992. Then I was 7-4 my second season there and the team went 8-8. I gave the team everything I could."

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