Charles Johnson agrees with the assessment of his team’s general manager when it comes to the mystery of why he is playing for the Orlando Apollos rather than the New York Jets or the Minnesota Vikings.
“I don’t know why he’s in our league,’’ Apollos' GM Tim Ruskell said of the Alliance of American Football’s best wide receiver.
Ruskell’s point was that it's absurd to think there are over 100 wide receivers more talented than Johnson, who leads the Alliance with 476 receiving yards and 31 receptions four games into their season.
Johnson visited with theTalk of Fame Network's Ron Borges, Rick Gosselin and Clark Judge this week and said he doesn’t know, either, but he’s not wasting any more energy trying to figure it out. After all, it was those kind of thoughts that nearly convinced him to spurn the second chance the Alliance offered him after he was released last summer by the lowly New York Jets, his fourth NFL team in six years.
“I’m just focused on the job at hand,’’ Johnson told the Talk of Fame Network. “I’ve got to come here and play for love of the game.’’
It was that love that allowed him to blossom from a 7th-round draft choice of the Green Bay Packers in 2013 into a starting wide receiver with the Vikings a year later. In his bust-out season, Johnson became a surprise starter in six games, hauling in 31 receptions for 475 yards, a per catch average of 15.3 yards a reception.
The future seemed bright for Johnson, another one of those seventh-round Cinderella stories fans love. But then nagging injuries and, in his opinion, the politics of pro football slowly derailed him until he was first out of Minnesota and soon after out of football.
“At Minnesota I got some injuries and got frustrated,’’ Johnson admits. “I felt disrespected. I used to let things get to me in the NFL. I had to sit back and fix my mental side (as well as his physical side).’’
Spending last season away from football for the first time since he was a kid helped Johnson clear his mind and remember the joy of the game he once played only for fun. A death in the family and his father’s medical struggles also gave him a new perspective. Yet when the Alliance first called, Johnson just didn’t have the desire to get back into the rat race of pro football.
What changed his mind was one word. Fun.
Johnson began getting text messages from several former teammates playing for the Alliance’s Arizona Hot Shots. At first he told them he wasn’t interested, but they kept saying they were having what he’d missed his last couple seasons in the NFL.
“One sent me a really long text,’’ Johnson recalls on our show. “The message was – fun. Fun is the only thing I’m looking for right now.’’
Charles Johnson certainly is having it. If he keeps it up, he’ll be having fun in an NFL training camp soon and Apollos’ GM Tim Ruskill won’t be surprised by that.
Another guy who wasn’t surprised by a recent election in the Pro Football Hall of Fame is Denver Broncos’ president and CEO Joe Ellis. Ellis visits with Talk of Fame Network this week to talk about the coming induction of Broncos’ owner Pat Bowlen, one of eight new inductees voted in last month by the Hall’s 48-person board of selectors.
That board includes all three of Talk of Fame Network’s hosts, who were interested in Ellis’ take on how Bowlen changed the television landscape for pro football, causing revenues and the salary cap to skyrocket.
“His accomplishments speak for themselves,’’ Ellis said of Bowlen.
Another set of accomplishments don’t speak so well for young San Francisco 49ers’ head coach Kyle Shanahan. The Talk of Fame Network visits this week with long-time 49ers’ beat writer and Hall-of-Fame voter Matt Maiocco to discuss what the Niners might do with the draft’s second pick and what the future may hold for Shanahan.
Maiocco is among those admirers of Shanahan but concedes his 10-22 record as a head coach could become a problem if something doesn’t improve this season in a league known for its impatience -- even though he signed a six-year contract two years ago that runs concurrently with general manager John Lynch.
“I think he’s a really good coach, but if he doesn’t start showing it soon…’’ Maiocco said before pointing out his two immediate predecessors were each fired after only one losing season. Stay tuned.
Lastly, Hall-of-Fame voter Kent Somers, a long-time beat writer covering the Arizona Cardinals also joins the show this week to discuss what Arizona may do with the draft’s first pick. Might they opt for a quarterback despite having taken Josh Rosen just last year? Might they go for defense or offensive line help to shore up the holes that nearly got Rosen killed last season?
Tune in to the Talk of Fame Network on your local SB Nation Radio station Wednesday or Friday nights or simply subscribe to our free weekly podcast to hear it all whenever you’d like. You can also get the podcast by using the TuneIn app or by simply going to our website, talkoffamenetwork.com. Thanks for listening!