Larry Johnson was the man as a running back at Penn State. His bruising, punishing running style would wear out opposing defenses by the end of the 3rd quarter. Even the biggest, meanest linebacker would get tired of tackling a six foot one, 230-pound freight train head on, down after bloody, muddy down.
Johnson exploded for 2,087 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns his senior year in State College. For comparison, thats nearly 700 yards more than current star Saquon Barkleys best regular season rushing tally of 1,496 yards and 18 TDs, recorded during his sophomore year.
The original and most complete assortment of Penn State All-American and 2000-yard rusher RB Larry Johnson career highlights – from his first career TD to his last. Running Back – Penn State – 1999-02 -2002: First-team All-American; Maxwell Award (nation’s top player); Doak Walker Award (nation’s top RB); Walter Camp Award (collegiate player of the year).
The only time his toughness was ever questioned was his rookie NFL season, when then Kansas City Chiefs head coach Dick Vermeil told him he had to take the diapers off to carry the load for the oft-injured incumbent veteran Priest Holmes.
Johnson didnt take to kindly to that. As the son of a defensive line coach, Johnson would eventually get the chance to show just how tough he really was. He split time with dynamic Pro Bowler Priest Holmes for his first two seasons in the National Football League before exploding for 1,750 yards and 20 TDs in his third season. Hed follow that up with 1,789 yards and 17 TDs the following season. Those were two of the most prolific back-to-back seasons for a running back in the history of the NFL. His Herculean 416 attempts in 2006 are still an NFL record.
Injuries and attrition would plague Johnson for the remainder of his career, with a 874-yard and 5 TD stanza in 2008 being his last flash of brilliance. Since then, he has not so quietly segued into retirement. Larry has been banned from several Miami nightclubs for fighting, as well as threatening club owners and promoters. Of course, Johnson isnt the first ex-football player to get into a fight.
Current Pittsburgh Steelers assistant coach Joey Porter got into a scuffle last year, former Indianapolis Colts WR Marvin Harrison had a highly publicized gun charge, but, statistically, football players tend to get into fights. Lest we forget Aaron Hernandezs murderous ways. Larry Johnson has been arrested six times and allegedly was involved in several domestic violence-related incidents.
Football is a violent sport and the players tend to take that violence outside of the lines with a regularity unseen in any team sport. Boys will be boys, at least thats what weve been led to believe. However, recent revelations about the degenerative brain disease CTE and its effects on temperament and cognitive abilities has changed the entire dynamic of what we believe is the catalyst behind why some football players behave as they do.
Back in 2014, TMZ quoted a source as saying Johnson was a walking time bomb at a Miami strip club where he once DJ’d. Recently, Johnson has come out and candidly discussed why he believes he may be suffering from chronic traumatic encephalitis, more commonly referred to as CTE.
Despite recent scientific breakthroughs, CTE still can only be officially diagnosed posthumously. However, Johnson says his symptoms of anxiety, suicidal thoughts and paranoia are similar to what other victims of CTE experienced.
The two-time Pro Bowler says many of his greatest highlights, including those prolific seasons, are a blank. He simply cannot recall them.
He also says he “has considered violence toward others and himself” since stepping away from football and that he has competing urges of life and death on occasion.
“One is telling you to do it; one is telling you don’t,” Johnson. “One is telling you it’d be fun.”
“My greatest fear is my daughter falling in love with somebody who’s me,” Johnson told a Washington Post reporter.
Sad isnt even the word to describe this situation. These men are prodded to run through brick walls and told that money will soothe their aching, broken bodies and minds.
These men have been lied to. As Johnson, and those like him, continue to reveal their innermost pains, perhaps USA football and the NFL can start being more upfront about what they knew about the effects of CTE, and when they knew it.
If Im a young athlete, Im thinking Suicidal thoughts? Domestic violence? Murderous thoughts? Man, you can keep football.