After an 11-year career, Keyshawn Johnson announced on May 23 that he would retire from the National Football League and will begin the next phase of his career working for ESPN.
Johnson, who was born in South L.A. and attended Dorsey High School, held a press conference in Heritage Hall at USC where he starred for two years and led the Trojans to two bowl victories.
“I’ve done everything I wanted to do in my career. I tried to find as much as I could to push me back and play football for one or two more years,” Johnson said.
He said that he had considered retirement for the past two years and after talking with his family and friends, he decided to finally end what he called a “lucky career.”
“In this game, we all dream about becoming a star,” he said, “There’s not a whole lot of us that are lucky. I happened to be one that was lucky to get through all the things that you have to go through…to have a good career.”
Before announcing his decision, he had weighed offers from half a dozen teams, including the Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Titans. His longtime agent, Jerome Stanley, said the Titans had offered a two-year contract worth $8 million but Johnson felt that it was time to leave while he was still healthy.
After starting his career as the No. 1 overall pick in 1996, he had stints with the New York Jets (1996-99), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2000-03), Dallas Cowboys (2004-05) and Carolina Panthers (2006). He went to the Pro Bowl three times, winning MVP honors in 1999, and helped Tampa Bay win Super Bowl XXXVII in 2003.
He ended his career with 814 receptions for 10,571 yards and 64 touchdowns, while missing only three games due to injury.
Last month, Johnson first worked for ESPN during their draft coverage. Now, he will be a part of their Sunday and Monday Night Countdown as well as co-hosting a radio show with former coach Bill Parcells. His multi-year contract with will also include other sports and entertainment ventures with the network and ABC.
“Being part of the Disney family, that’s a plus,” he said, “It means that people not only recognize my talent but who I am as a person.
On the field, Johnson was a standout receiver who was not afraid to set a big block to help his teammates. Off the field, he became known for his outspoken and opinionated personality that often put him at odds with his teams.
After his rookie year, he wrote “Just Give Me the Damn Ball!,” a controversial book which blasted teammates and the Jets organization. In 2003, he was deactivated by Tampa Bay for their last six games after a strenuous relationship with his coach, Jon Gruden.
It was fitting that Johnson ended his career where it unofficially started. He was a ball-boy under John Robinson and spent his early years hanging around the program. It was a foreshadowing of gridiron greatness to come as he would become an all-state player at Dorsey and an All-American at West LA College.
Reynaldo Spalding played with Johnson at both stages and helped to recruit him to Dorsey. Johnson later returned the favor in recruiting him to West LA.
“Back then, he was a good receiver. He was always a great player as a whole,” said Spalding, adding that he knew Johnson would make the NFL from the start.
In his two years with the Trojans (1994-95), Johnson became an All-American and led them to wins in the Cotton and Rose Bowl, earning MVP both times as he set bowl receiving records in each game. He followed that by becoming the second receiver in history to be the first overall pick in the draft (1984 – Irving Fryar).
As far as regrets for his career, he only said that he wished he won the Super Bowl later in his career. He accomplished his goal of playing at least ten years and now looks forward to his new career and spending more time with his family.
According to Stanley, Johnson will also continue to “champion for kids who came from similar backgrounds” and spend more time with his community-based investments.
As far as thoughts on the Hall of Fame, it is a debate that will surely intensify over the next few years. While his numbers may be comparable to other candidates, Johnson said that his potential candidacy is the furthest thing from his mind.
“I really haven’t paid much attention to that or even thought about it much because I can’t control that.” he said. “The one thing that I know is that I’ve had a really good career and that I’m satisfied with my career.