September 05, 2002
Unrest Returns As TJ Goes AWOL
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
Someone needs to go fetch me a dictionary and look up the word "contract".
Sure, Bob. Comin' right up. Nice to know that the Internet has uses other than the latest scores, cybersex and rotten.com.
Here's what Merriam-Webster has to say about what a contract is: "a binding agreement between two or more persons or parties; especially: one legally enforceable". Hmmm. Sounds good, pretty concise and to the point. Binding. Legally enforceable. Okay, I'll buy that.
Now and then, you get athletes who love to bend and twist the tenets of the word "contract". I want to renegotiate. I'm pissed off and I'm leaving the team. I've lost my desire to play. Stuff like that. And, even though there are two sides to a story, Joe Average Working Class Guy has to be incredibly peeved at athletes like these.
Terry Glenn. Just the mere mention of the name brings out the worst feelings in any Patriot fan when it comes to a "contract". You have here a player who, in the abstract, simply didn't feel like playing football for the Patriots in 2001. His shenanigans got him traded to Green Bay, and the man who was the linchpin for the departure of Bill Parcells made the presumptive Hall of Fame coach's departure even more tragic and senseless.
This corner of Patriot Nation senses that the good people of Green Bay will soon find out what they have with Glenn. And what she thinks about the importance, as well as the respect for honoring contracts. It's unfortunate that Patriot Nation needs to root for Glenn to have a great 2002 season, as a draft pick hinges on it. The smart thinking is that Glenn playing well enough to make the compensation pick a second rounder is a longer shot than the experts gave the Patriots to win Super Bowl XXXVI.
Against that backdrop, one must ask the following question: What in the Sam Hill is up with Ted Johnson?
At the moment, what is there not to like about this guy? In 1996 he gave the Patriots some of the best linebacker play in franchise history. You looked at him and were reminded of Steve Nelson. The then-second year phenom out of Colorado looked like a future perennial All-Pro, with ability to take power running backs like Jerome Bettis and make them look like Jerry Lewis.
Johnson was always willing to restructure his contract for the team. He has withstood two torn biceps, one torn in 1998 and the other in 1999. He's a great target for marriage, as girls will really dig his penchant for romances and love stories.
As I said, what's not to like about TJ?
On Wednesday, Johnson walked off the team, and no reason has been given why. Bill Belichick is taking a predictable "no comment" stance, which is unfortunate for nosy folks but is the correct thing for the head man to do. Patriot Nation has been left to guess "why", and is generally reserving judgment until the truth is known.
There are all sorts of reasons. Is TJ contemplating retirement? Is there a family problem? Is he suffering from Katzenmoyeritis and is suddenly afraid to get hit? Is there an injury that we don't know about?
Or, is it something that will ultimately tarnish his good name, something that caused him to just blow the team off in a fit of pique?
Many people think that the reason Johnson walked off the squad is all about Tedi Bruschi, and his return from his injury caused by a collision with Tebucky Jones two weeks ago against Carolina. Bruschi was activated for Monday night's season opener with Pittsburgh, denying TJ the possible start at MLB for the Patriots. Torqued off by this prospect, Johnson supposedly walked off the team in a huff.
If this be the reason, and we realize that TJ is "innocent until proven guilty", then we have an issue with the word "contract", and another athlete who views a contract as something you use in a bathroom next to a toilet. With Glenn, you accepted this as his modus operandi; while still unacceptable, you just shrugged your shoulders and sighed, "Terry's Terry!" But Johnson is someone who has always been a team guy, and for this to be true is a real shame and a slap in the face of the team-first concept.
This is not to say that it was "okay" for Glenn to blow off the Patriots. It's just to say that with Glenn, you think, "It figures…" whereas with TJ it's more like "Are you nuts?"
In either case, when an athlete does this sort of thing, it really looks selfish and unspeakable in the eyes of his fans, never mind it being illegal in the eyes of those who wish to enforce a contract. A contract is exactly what the dictionary says it is, and if an athlete violates it, he should then by golly know what he is in for.
The real problem is if those consequences are of no consequence to the athlete in question. If the athlete is so into himself that he doesn't care what happens to him if he just goes AWOL, it is another sad expose on the warped values and tainted psyches of today's professional athlete. It is a slap in the face of the great athletes of yesterday who played for far less money, had to work a lot harder to get in top shape (primitive equipment and training regimens), and had a greater love for the game itself than money-hungry athletes of today.
You have to sit down and watch some of the old film clips from NFL Films sometime. When cheap shots were legal in the 1950s and 1960s, the game meant so much more than putting food on the table. Ask your dads and grandpas how many football players walked off their teams back then. Football back then was more about macho, pride and character, as well as winning.
Today, it seems that it is all about looking out for Number One, and/or Number One's next big payday. It is about star quality, earning potential, and ego. In other words, it is all about the kind of person everyone thought Ted Johnson was not.
That is why nobody is rushing to judgment on TJ. No one could dare think that TJ would put himself before the team, at perhaps the worst possible time to do so. His departure leaves the Patriots dangerously thin at linebacker, and he still remains the best man in the league at stopping Bettis. If you think that he can no longer stop the Bus, go pop in your tape of last year's conference championship game. One could never believe that TJ would bail on his team at this time without a darned good reason.
The sad thing is obvious: What if he did bail out of spite?
The last thing the Patriots need right now as they begin defense of their championship is a challenge like this to the authority of Belichick. The head coach dealt with Glenn last year in a masterful manner. This team does not need another player to cause this kind of a ruckus again.
Belichick is the unquestioned boss of this team. With that goes the prospect of someone getting so mad that they can't stand it anymore. They know that they can't fight City Hall, so they move out of the city.
Which brings us back to the issue of "contract". In the real world, contracts are just a piece of paper. They are voided in court all the time. Schools make parents sign them, but a lawyer with half a brain can defeat any of them in court. The most violated contracts of them all are perhaps marriages, as extramarital affairs will always be a part of our culture.
So, why should Johnson be any different? Why should he be held to his contract when all around him is an environment which freely condones anyone who wants to try and get out of one?
Because we all thought TJ was one of the really good guys.
And this story isn't over yet. He just might still be one really good guy.
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