[EDIT: Bumping Back to the top. It's a great interview, and it kind of got lost in the shuffle of the Seahawks game. Just want to make sure everybody got a chance to see it.--Ted]
As we patiently await Game 2 of the 2011 preseason tonight against
Vikings West the Seahawks, we Vikings fans still have lots of questions about our favorite squad. Will the new regime of Leslie Frazier, Bill Musgrave, and Fred Pagac work out? Does Donovan McNabb have anything left in the tank? Is Christian Ponder the quarterback of the future?
If only there was someone we could talk to that would know a lot about the Vikings, especially from the perspective of a quarterback...and it would be nice if he knew about adjusting to a new coaching regime...and since Ponder is from Florida State, it would be nice if this person knew about being drafted out of FSU. But surely, nobody like that exists, and if such a person did exist, they'd never actually sit down and talk with our humble little blog.
Wait a sec--there's totally someone like that!
Brad Johnson was kind enough to sit down with Daily Norseman yesterday at Dick's Sporting Goods in Richfield. Johnson lives in the Athens, Georgia area and keeps very busy with coaching various levels of football in the area--in fact, his brother-in-law is Mark Richt, the head coach of the University of Georgia football team. But Brad took time out of his busy schedule and came back to Minnesota for a great cause--the PACE Program for baseline concussion testing. I chatted with Brad about the program, how far concussion testing has come, the current state of the Vikings quarterback position, and yes, even the dreaded Brad Childress Kick Ass Offense.
Daily Norseman: First and foremost, you're here for a great cause today, which is the PACE Program. Tell us a little about the program and why you're with us representing it today.
Brad Johnson: This is an unbelievable event that's taking place right now. We're partnering with Dick's Sporting Goods for this project. It's basically protecting athletes with concussion education. You go to mydickssportinggoods.com/pace for a chance for you to sign up your school and get your community involved. They support over 3300 schools nationwide, and you can go in and get kids baseline tested for concussions. That way, you know where your kids stand. In the college and pro levels, they have these kind of tests taking place, and they have professional doctors and trainers on call. But at the youth and high school levels you don't always have that. It doesn't just happen in football either. It's basketball, soccer, riding bikes, skateboards, whatever. Now you have something to fall back on. A lot of times you have volunteer coaches, or just parents helping out, so this gives you a support system to follow through with.
DN: Throughout your long NFL career, you've no doubt seen concussions up close and personal. Can you recall any issues that you had personally or with teammates where these updated concussion rules would have helped? I know that the PACE Program is more geared towards youth sports, but when you played how often did you see someone coming back into the game before he was ready?
BJ: I personally had two concussions. I had one when I was playing basketball at Florida State [Yes, you read that right. Brad Johnson was THAT good of an athlete in college; he played two sports at FSU.] and one in the pros. Back then it was just, "Are you ready to play?", maybe put some ice on your head, and maybe some ammonia. Everyone was trying to be careful, but now we have this updated testing. I think it came in the 2004 range, so now they at least have a baseline on you. I don't think I went through a game where somebody wasn't at least dinged up where the doctor went over shining a light in the guy's eyes. You have to make a wise decision, not just for the present but for the future of someone. It's definitely a different stage in college and the pros, but these youth kids are taking all these hits in all the sporting events they're in, and it takes a toll. So it's really great what's taking place with the program.
DN: It's definitely great to see a program addressing the issue so early. Moving on to the Vikings, everyone knows that the Brad Childress era came to a crashing halt during the 2010 season. What people might not remember is that you helped usher in that era in 2006. You started all but two games that season. Since we're over five years removed now, be honest--did Childress limit what you wanted to do with his "Kick Ass Offense"?
BJ: [Doubles over, chuckles, takes a good long pause]
DN: Be honest!
BJ: Every coach is different. Where he came from, what he's trying to accomplish. You have to give [Childress and his staff] credit because they took the team to the NFC Championship Game. There's different ways to approach it--different styles for different quarterbacks. I can't say honestly that it was my style of play and what I wanted to accomplish, and obviously I didn't play as well as I wanted to play. But things happen and I was able to move on. I felt like we did as good as we could with the situation. Don't get me wrong--nobody's trying to take any shots at anyone, especially after he's gone. He did lead the team to the NFC Championship Game and I gotta give him credit for that.
[After the interview was over, Brad asked me if someone from the current coaching staff had told me to ask him that question. I thought that was rather telling. After I calmly replied that my fellow DN writers and I were simply curious as fans, he then gave me a much more personal, honest answer. Being the classy guy that he is, Johnson asked me not to share it here, but it shouldn't be too hard to read between the lines.]
DN: 2011 is another new season for the Vikings, and yet again it means another new veteran quarterback at the helm in Donovan McNabb. You've played against him a number of times in your career. Do you think he has something left in the tank, and do you think his skills are a good fit for this Minnesota team?
BJ: Donovan can still play. I think this system with Bill Musgrave is a little more similar to his when he played in Philadelphia. He just never got off to a good start in Washington, never got things going and it kind of snowballed on him in the end. But Donovan can put up unbelievable numbers, he can win for you, and give your team a chance to win. I think he can still do that.
DN: Do you think McNabb's situation is pretty similar to your second stint here in Minnesota? Both of you kind of came off disappointing seasons with your old team and you had a lot to prove. What did you do your second time around with the Vikings to prove that you still had it, and how did it differ from proving yourself at the beginning of your career?
BJ: I had a couple different chances throughout my career to prove myself. My first year in Washington I threw for 4,000 yards [He did; I checked. Totally forgot about how good he was that season.] and made the playoffs. The next year I didn't put up those numbers, but still thought I played pretty well, but I hit free agency again and went to Tampa. Really you kind of get rejuvenated when you come to a new place. You feel like you have something to prove. Whether you say it or not, you always do. And I think Donovan is coming in here with that same kind of mindset, and I think he'll do great.
[A PR person stepped in at this point and cut off the interview because Brad had to do a few live TV spots for the news. But since Brad is such a cordial guy, he came back and finished up the last couple questions to make sure I had everything I wanted before he went to sign autographs for two hours.]
DN: McNabb of course isn't the only quarterback making headlines for the Vikings this year. The Vikings drafted a fellow Seminole, Christian Ponder with the twelfth pick in this year's draft. It looks like the plan is to groom him to become the team's quarterback of the future and maybe stop this revolving door of veteran quarterbacks coming in. Have you kept pretty close tabs on him because he's an FSU guy? And what's the one thing that you think he needs to work on in order to become a successful NFL quarterback?
BJ: I gotta say first, there have been some great quarterbacks that have come through here. There have been Super Bowl quality guys, MVP guys. You can't really say that many people have jumped on the bandwagons of many of the great quarterbacks that have been here in Minnesota. I think you should be very appreciative of the guys that have been here. I think people should jump on McNabb's bandwagon now, and ride it out. But as far as Christian, he's a talented guy. I've seen the type of throws that he can make. Obviously it's a jump from college to the pros, but when his time comes he just needs to be ready to go out there and perform. He's a hard worker--he proved that he could play as a Freshman at Florida State. It'll be tough on him missing out on the playing time because of the lockout, so that could hurt to a degree. But he's a quick study, and when the time comes he'll show his talent. Take a look at guys like Philip Rivers, Eli Manning, Steve McNair, Michael Vick, Carson Palmer, myself--they didn't just go out there and play the very first game. When Ponder's ready he'll get his chance; I hope it's not just a fan thing and he gets called upon when he's actually ready.
DN: I hope you're right there. So how closely do you still follow the game? Do you still miss Sundays, and do you get that itch when you see games now?
BJ: I've put in my time. Seventeen years, that's a long time. You wish you could still play, but physically, you just can't play. My knees are shot. I mean, my knees are shot. So I got nothing left as far as that goes. I played as hard as I could, and I don't hold any regrets. I still keep up with the game, and I cheer for a lot of former teammates that I was with. Now a days, a lot of those former teammates are coaches in the league. So you just enjoy the games and root for guys like that.
I can't thank Brad Johnson enough for taking the time out of his busy schedule for the event and sitting down with me. He was an incredibly easy guy to interview, and it was really interesting to hear thoughts on the quarterback situation from his perspective. Be sure to check out the PACE Program, especially if you have kids in youth football. It's a great cause for a very important issue in today's sports.