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Monday, December 29, 2008

Andre Johnson Vs. Terrell Owens

Yesterday, my hometown Bears were eliminated from the playoffs. Today, there is a lot of soul searching in Chicago's sports mainstream. Yet, if you wanted to pin point one reason above all else why the Bears lost to the Texans yesterday, that reason was Andre Johnson. In fact, Johnson is likely the most under appreciated player in the NFL. His relative anonymity especially compared to the mass amount of attention that Terrell Owens receives is a microcosm of everything that is wrong with the NFL and sports in general.

Johnson came to Houston via the 2001 Miami Hurricane National Championship team, one of the greatest in College Football history. He is in many ways the prototypical wide receiver. He is big, 6'3", strong, 225 pounds, and he's one of the fastest players in the NFL along with a vertical near 40 inches. Physically, he is everything one would ask for in a receiver. Beyond his physical capabilities, Johnson is also an intense competitor and generally quiet and humble. Unlike most receivers, you are very unlikely to see Johnson take any plays off or see him go through the motions on any given play. This is no small feat. This year the Texans finished 8-8 and that's the best team Johnson's ever been on in the NFL. Yet, long after the Texans playoff hopes are through, Johnson continues to be a fierce competitor on each and every play.

In fact, Johnson's relative anonymity comes from the fact that he adds anywhere from two to four wins to teams that end up with no more than six wins total. No one appreciates his immense talent because he makes really bad teams less bad. So, for six years now, he has played in isolation for really bad Houston Texan teams. Yet, not once have you heard Johnson complain, demand a trade, or call out teammates, coaches or fans. In fact, Johnson is in every way the model football player, athlete and competitor. He is of immense talent, with a work ethic and team first me second philosophy to match it. For this, he has been rewarded with being totally under appreciated. In fact, unless you are a serious fan of football, it is unlikely you've heard of Andre Johnson. He has, since arriving in the NFL, played on nothing but losing teams (though that appears to be changing), with a relatively low salary, and scant endorsements to speak of. Yet, he never complains about this, draws attention to himself, or in any other way acts like the typical spoiled brat that wide receivers are known for. Johnson is old school, and for this, the sports universe gives him significantly less attention than if he were the attention hound of Terrell Owens.

Owens, on the other hand, is in most ways the exact opposite of Johnson. While there's no doubt that Owens has talent and work ethic to match Johnson's, he is also an attention hound and has absolutely no sense of team. He has thrown not one, not two, but three of his quarterbacks under the proverbial bus. He has blown up two teams. He once took out a Sharpie in a choreographed touchdown celebration that eventually landed him a lucrative endorsement deal with Sharpie. Owens touchdown celebrations are so infamous that it seems that they are more important to Owens than the touchdown itself. Coach's as well respected as Bill Parcells and Andy Reid have all been unable to reign him in, and yet, each and every time, there is another team more than willing to give him another opportunity and usually more money.

Furthermore, Owens is among the most exposed athletes on such stations as ESPN. Furthermore, his brash attention getting theatrics have landed him a plethora of endorsement deals. He is not without controversy but in fact, he has been able to use that controversy as a form of self promotion to get himself more endorsements, even though his self promotion is often at the expense of his team. In fact, Owens is in many ways the epitome of everything that is wrong with sports. He pouts. He demands the ball more and more regardless of how that will work in his team's offensive scheme. If he doesn't get the ball enough, he is liable to explode, blow up his team, and create a sports drama. (just ask anyone from Donovan McNabb to Jeff Garcia to Tony Romo and Jason Witten) Yet, it is Terrell Owens that is the subject of endless media attention and fascination.

So, what is the lesson that we are teaching our youth. If you do everything right like Andre Johnson, you can expect to be mired in anonymity, no one will notice your talents, and you'll be on a constant stream of losing teams. If you draw attention to yoursel at the expense of your team, whine, cry, and use any opportunity to make a flamboyant statement, then you can expect constant media attention, many endorsements, and no matter how many times you screw things up, someone will be there to give you another chance. Everything that Andre Johnson is and does should be celebrated and yet it is downplayed by our media and culture. Everything that Terrell Owens is and does should be shunned and condemned and yet that's what we celebrate.

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