Former Patriots Ted Johnson Talks Bill Parcells, Tom Brady and Defense
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It's a late Saturday afternoon in the border town of Laredo, Texas when in walks a three-time Super Bowl champion linebacker.
Being that this Dallas Cowboy country, you would think that the linebacker who has proudly held up three Vince Lombardi trophies in his playing career might be Ken Norton Jr., the former middle linebacker for the Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers.
But it's not Norton that's walking into this collector's expo on this Saturday afternoon. Instead it's a linebacker who has seen the very highs of winning and the very lows of losing, both at the college and professional level.
In college, he was on the sidelines when one of the most famous Hail Mary's in college football history was made. Two year later, he was haunted by a member of the team victimized by that same Hail Mary. He was part of the roots of what would later become the most recent NFL Dynasty.
In his 10-year career in the NFL, Ted Johnson played in four Super Bowls, started 106 games and finished with over 757 tackles as a middle linebacker. Along with cornerback Ty Law, Ted Johnson was one of the key members of the 1995 NFL draft class that helped lay the foundation for the Patriots dynasty that reached the Super Bowl in 1996 under Bill Parcells and three more times in the Bill Belichick era (2001, 2003-04).
On this late Saturday afternoon in September, Ted Johnson made some time for a quick interview. Here is the interview in it's entirety.
BR Report: You played for Colorado.
TJ: I did
BR Report: You were on the sidelines when Kordell Stewart threw the touchdown.
TJ: I was.
BR Report: What was that like?
TJ: It was incredible. That game had a lot of meaning to me. My best friend in high school died in a jeep accident the week before so that was my first week back. Playing at Michigan Stadium, The Big House, amazing place, about 106,000 people. It was incredible.
We were ranked seventh, Michigan was fourth. The tradition. My dad was there so he got to experience it.
BR Report: You were drafted in 1995. Your teammate, Kordell Stewart< was also drafted in 1995.
TJ: Yes, to Pittsburgh
BR Report: What was it like to go to the NFL and play for Bill Parcells?
TJ: Well he was my favorite coach. He was awesome. He started me my rookie year. The second year we went to the Super Bowl. He had me be the signal-caller my second year, so he gave me a lot of trust and faith in me. Probably my favorite coach ever.
BR Report: Bill Parcells?
TJ: Yeah, he was just...he had an emotional investment in his guys. He wanted to see me do well. I'll never forget that. He gave me the chance to play early. He believed in me, and he wanted to see me do well and he just made me a better player.
BR Report: Now your second year there, you guys made it to the Super Bowl, and then Michigan came back to haunt you on the kick return.
TJ: Ohh, my gosh, yes, that killed us. Desmond (Howard). That broke our backs. We had momentum going and we never recovered from that. So yeah, in a way he got me back.
BR Report: What was Drew Bledsoe like?
TJ: Drew? Just so much God-given ability. God gave him a thunderbolt of a right arm. One of my favorite guys; still one of my good friends. You know, there are certain guys that are responsible for those championships in the 2000s—guys like Drew, Troy Brown, me, (Teddy) Bruschi, (Adam) Vinatieri, you know, we were the core nucleus of guys from the 90s, those teams.
And Drew gets hurt in 2001, and Tom Brady comes in and Drew was such a classy guy, you know, he didn't make a big stink about it. He accepted his diminished role, and guys like that are great examples of why we won our Super Bowl—guys who have common roles on that team took diminished roles and didn't complain about it, and it's a big reason why we won.
BR Report: What was the transition like from Tom Brady to Drew Bledsoe?
TJ: He was different. Tom comes in and he had a youthful energy and spirit about him, almost childlike, and it was contagious.
He comes in, and he was going nuts in practice, he was excited, it was all genuine, all sincere, there was nothing inauthentic about it, and we liked that. That was nice. It was good. It was contagious, and that kind of attitude permeated throughout the whole team. It became his team pretty quick.
BR Report: Your first Super Bowl win was back in New Orleans, where you all lost your first Super Bowl.
TJ: Exactly, right.
BR Report: What was that like? Did you know Vinatieri's kick was good as soon as he kicked the ball?
TJ: Yeah, I mean, it was money from the jump. You know...that was amazing. We were 14-point underdogs. We started that season 0-2, so we overcame a lot: all the things that happened with Drew, we got a new quarterback, we're 14-point underdogs, we're going up against the Rams who were known as the Greatest Show on Turf, just killing people.
It's just...it's so hard to get to the Super Bowl, then to win it. I mean, it's amazing. I go down in history as a world champ, three times, but the first time was the most special.
BR Report: As a linebacker you played with guys like (Teddy) Bruschi.
TJ: (Mike) Vrabel, (Roman) Phifer, (Willie) McGinest, (Richard) Seymour, Ty Law
BR Report: What was it like as a defense?
TJ: We had a great group of guys. You look around that room, and I'm seeing Willie McGinnest, Phifer, Vrabes, Ty Law, Rodney Harrison, Seymour, my last year, Big Ted Washington.
We were like, the quintessential team. We had stars, but we didn't have bright stars. We all enjoyed each other...just professionals...just came to work, and we won.
We won a lot of games. I think 03' and 04' we were 14-2, so that's 28 wins and 4 losses in two years. That's pretty good.
BR Report: Last question, as a defensive player, what do you think about the NFL's offensive explosion? Guys throwing for 5,000 yards, shattering records like crazy, does that bother you? The five-yard contacts?
TJ: Well yeah, I want to say we're partly responsible for that because when we played the Colts.
BR Report: I know against the Colts
TJ: There you go. You seem you know your stuff man. And that changed the game. And I always wondered whether if I could even play the game now because I was just your prototype middle linebacker.
A lot of teams play...their predominant defense is nickle defense, so you have more speed out there. It's more exciting, but I can appreciate a more-balanced offense—good running game, good passing game—but you don't see that anymore.
But it all comes in cycles. In 10-years, it could be all pound-and-ground.
BR Report: Well, thank you so much. Thank you for coming to Laredo.
TJ: Alright man, my pleasure.
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