In new pocket with Redskins

Football: Brad Johnson didn't want to leave the Vikings, but the quarterback now searches for his comfort zone in Washington.

August 19, 1999|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

FROSTBURG -- Being the quarterback of the Washington Redskins is one of the glamour jobs in all of sports.

Slingin' Sammy Baugh was one of the first to play the position. So did Sonny Jurgensen and Billy Kilmer. Joe Theismann, Doug Williams and Mark Rypien won Super Bowls as Redskins quarterbacks.

They all became household words in the nation's capital where being quarterback of the Redskins has long been considered almost as big a deal as living at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

That's why Brad Johnson got the opportunity of a lifetime when the Redskins traded for him earlier this year.

He's gotten the opportunity to restore the luster to the position that Heath Shuler and Gus Frerotte struggled with before departing. Trent Green played it for a year and left in free agency.

Don't expect Johnson to have any problems dealing with the Washington pressure cooker.

That's because the job isn't likely to consume him. Mainly because it's not even the job he wants right now.

Growing up in Black Mountain, N.C., he once dreamed of being a Redskins quarterback. That was before he spent seven years in Minnesota. He's a soft-spoken, polite type and you have to read between the lines to understand where he's coming from.

He leaves little doubt, though, he still wishes he were the quarterback of the Vikings. That he'd been given a chance to compete with Randall Cunningham for the starting job this year. He'd rather be in Mankato, Minn., right now.

When the Vikings drafted Randy

Moss a year ago, he predicted their offense would produce 40 touchdown passes.

He threw four of them in the opener against Tampa Bay. The team wound up with 41. But he threw only seven of them. Cunningham got the other 34.

In the second game, he broke his leg. He came back in the ninth game, passed for 316 yards against the Saints and broke his thumb.

He spent most of the year watching Cunningham get all the accolades and touchdown passes. The Vikings locked Cunningham up with a $27.5 million deal. Suddenly, Johnson became expendable.

"I didn't ask to be traded," he said.

But when the Redskins came offering first- and third-round picks this year and a second- round choice next year, the Vikings couldn't turn it down. With the first-round choice, they drafted their quarterback of the future, Daunte Culpepper.

"It's probably the best thing for everybody," said Johnson, being the good soldier.

He added: "I'm happy. I'm sure Minnesota is happy with what they have."

He then added one telling sentence. "Hopefully, it doesn't come back and bite 'em."

It's easy to get the idea that Johnson hopes it does come back and bite them. And he'd like nothing better than to do the biting.

This is a man who still sometimes calls the Vikings "we." Headmits that during the off-season, he sometimes signed autographs "Go Vikings."

"It's just an old habit," he said. That's why he not only wants to take the Redskins to their first playoff appearance since 1992, he wants to duel the Vikings in the playoffs.

"It wasn't like I wanted to leave. I think it'd be kind of neat if we could play [the Vikikngs] in the playoffs somewhere down the line. Hopefully, this year," he said.

It's obvious he was hurt that he wound up being the odd man out.

"I really kind of wanted to end my career in Minnesota," he said.

With the Redskins, Johnsonhas to prove he can stay healthy.

He was knocked out in December 1997 with a herniated disk and then suffered the broken foot and thumb last year.

At the Redskins' minicamp in April, his knee swelled up and he had to undergo arthroscopic knee surgery. He was on crutches in May. Although it hasn't appeared to slow him down in camp, the Redskins have given him a day off on occasion to rest it.

Johnson was efficient in the 20-14 victory over the New England Patriots in the exhibition opener last week, completing six of 11 for 53 yards.

Norv Turner, the Redskins' coach, is lavish in his praise of Johnson. But then Turner knows his job is riding on Johnson's right arm. If Johnson doesn't take the club to the playoffs, new owner Daniel Snyder has all but promised to fire Turner.

"He's an extremely accurate passer and he's a great competitor so that's a good combination. He's smart, he's experienced and he makes good decisions," Turner said.

Johnson spent his career in Minnesota working under Ravens coach Brian Billick, who declined to match the Redskins' offer for him.

"It would have been easy [to play for Billick], but here it's a very similar-type offense. I'm learning a lot from Norv. I enjoy working with him. It's going to be a fun year," he said.

How much fun he has will probably depend on whether he gets a chance to duel the Vikings in the playoffs.

Pub Date: 8/19/99

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