Chris Johnson can deftly move through obstacles, but recently found one he couldn't escape.
By GREG POGUE FS Tennessee
NASHVILLE –Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson has made a fine living out of running from defenders, especially during that record-breaking 2,000-yard season in 2009.
He's also become quite adept at outrunning his critics, too. From the time he held out during training camp last year before getting that $53.5-million contract with $30 million guaranteed, to the continuing wonderment then and now whether he still has "it" or not, whatever "it" is, the former first-round draft pick out of East Carolina has learned to deftly move through all the issues that seem to constantly surround him.
That will again be put to the test just after the Super Bowl on Feb. 3, when the clock starts ticking for the Titans and their five-day window to ante up on a contract deal for $10 million next season that includes $9 million guaranteed. Making that decision dicey is that the Titans can release Johnson during the period and not have his salary count toward the team's annual cap next year.
Yes, Chris Johnson seems to be always be on the run, both figuratively and literally. But just like everybody else, he couldn't run from the cold and hard truth that was the stark horror of what happened last Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
"It's a situation when you have kids and you wake up and see that on the news, it's kind of heartbreaking," Johnson said of the 26 dead that included 20 children of kindergarten age.
Earlier this year, Johnson became the father of twins. His great-grandmother also died earlier this year on the morning of the San Diego game.
This past Monday night, Johnson garnered national attention for his very public tribute to those who died in the massacre. He wrote the 26 names of the dead on the shoes he wore – and raced in during a 94-yard scoring jaunt -- during the Monday Night Football game against the New York Jets.
But it went further than that. According to reports, he talked to and befriended on Tuesday an 11-year-old boy whose younger sister was among those killed. It came about because a friend of the family saw what Johnson did on the broadcast and contacted the Titans on the family's behalf.
"It's something to try to give back and show tribute to those families," Johnson said. "I know how much they hurt. It's a situation on Monday Night Football where everybody around the world is watching.
"It's just a football game and not really watching nothing else. I felt it was a good deed."
Which prompts cause to take notice of a more mature side of Johnson, who has rushed for 1,159 yards on 4.8 yards per carry this season, surpassing the 1,000-yard mark during every year of his five-year career. For his career, he has 6,804 rushing yards and 43 touchdowns, including the 5,645 yards he gained from 2008-11 to become the leading rusher in the NFL the last four seasons.
In fact, he is only one of eight players in NFL history to rush for at least 1,000 yards in his first five seasons, joining the impressive grouping of Eric Dickerson, Barry Sanders, Curtis Martin, Eddie George, Tony Dorsett, Corey Dillon and LaDanian Tomlinson.
And Johnson hasn't been afraid to bite off yardage in chunks with six touchdowns runs coming on 80 yards or more.
"It's a situation that just I feel like once I get through the line, I don't feel like I can get caught," Johnson said.
After the 94-yard run Monday night, second-year Titans quarterback Jake Locker now knows how it feels to be running all the way down the field to help celebrate a long Johnson jaunt.
"I had the best viewpoint in the house," Locker said. "Once he gets in the secondary and gets by the second-level defenders, I am willing to say we are celebrating in the end zone 100 percent of the time."
This past Monday night, though, the celebration wasn't just about Johnson finding the end zone from long distance and helping the Titans win. He had other folks on his mind in far away Connecticut.
"It was much more meaningful, just thinking about those kids all week and the whole game, just how fortunate it is for us to be able to come out every Sunday and Monday and play on this field," Johnson said.
" … I don't care who you are. Anytime you have kids, you just think about that situation. It's really tough. It shows you how blessed you are to see your kids every day."