The NFL is a brutally demanding game. The average career lasts 3.3 years. Draft picks, even high draft picks, are a crapshoot.
Atlanta Falcons General Manager Thomas Dimitroff said,
“According to our most recent statistics that we drew on the first round, it’s less than 60 percent of those players that are starting. I think it may have come in at 56 percent.”
Selecting a starting-caliber player in the first round is essentially a coin flip. Drafting a Hall of Fame caliber player is a miracle. That’s what the Houston Texans found when they picked Andre Johnson with the third pick of the 2003 draft.
To illustrate how tenuous the draft is, Johnson wasn’t even the first wide-receiver taken that year; Charles Rogers was selected number two overall by the Detroit Lions.
Rogers’s three-year career ended with 440 total receiving yards. Johnson once had 273 receiving yards in one game. Johnson finished his career with more Pro Bowl appearances (7) than Rogers had touchdown catches (4).
Johnson was a humble superstar. He didn’t participate in gaudy end-zone celebrations. He didn’t peacock after making a routine catch. He didn’t point fingers or blast teammates and coaches in the media.
He simply did his job, and he did it well.
Despite shaky quarterback plays the majority of his career, Johnson amassed 1,062 receptions for 14,185 yards and 70 touchdowns. He finished 11th all-time in receptions and receiving yards, coincidentally one ranking behind his University of Miami teammate Reggie Wayne.
Johnson’s Hall of Fame induction should be a mere formality once he’s eligible in five years, though he would never admit it.
“People have mentioned it to me, but I haven’t thought five years down the road. But if it happens, it will be an exciting time.”
Johnson played his final season with the Tennessee Titans, but he signed a one-year contract with the Houston Texans so he could retire as a member of the team that drafted him.
During his retirement press conference, the ever-stoic Johnson finally broke down when addressing his mother.
From the Houston Chronicle:
“Everything I did on that field was because of you,” Johnson said with tears rolling down his face. “I played the game very angry, and the reason I played that way was because of where I grew up. Seeing the sacrifices, you made, I never wanted to go back to living that lifestyle again.
“It was just tough times that we experienced as a family that I never want to experience again.
When Johnson struggled to regain his composure, he got another ovation from the audience.
“I didn’t think I’d be up here crying,” he said. “It’s just a feeling you get being up here and knowing you’re closing a chapter.
“I get to be a fan now.”
Johnson had a message for the players. “I wanted to do everything I could to put this organization on the map,” he said. “The only regret I have is not helping this organization win a world championship.”
“I would give anything to go back on the field with you guys. Those are memories I’ll never forget – the good times and the bad times.”
“I’m going to challenge you guys. I want you guys to help me get a ring. I want to see you guys accomplish that ultimate goal. It would mean the world to me to see you do that.”
Even in retirement, Andre Johnson is the consummate team player.