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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Accentuating the Positive

Even when his NFL road has hit rough spots, Brad Johnson has always seen the best in the situation


Brad Johnson (second from left, flanked by Tony Dungy, Joel Glazer and Rich McKay) remembers the good moments in his previous NFL outposts but wants to make Tampa his best stop yet

by Andrew Mason,

There is no bitterness in the heart of Brad Johnson, the new quarterback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But one could understand if there was.

After all, the last three years have seen a series of travails that could crush even the most confident spirit. From losing his starting job in 1998 with the Minnesota Vikings as a result of injury and backup Randall Cunningham's MVP season, to heading to the Washington Redskins and making the Pro Bowl, only to have the team sign Jeff George in the following offseason, Johnson has known more football trouble than any of the NFL's elite quarterbacks.

Yet to this day, he remains unfazed. If anything, the six-foot-five, former Florida State basketball player stands taller than ever after the experience.

"I was very grateful for my time in Washington," Johnson resolutely recollected. "Taking a team that hadn't been to the playoffs in seven or eight years … it was an awesome experience."

That's the essence of Johnson — extracting the positive out of any experience. It's a trait that has come in handy, as he's only started and finished three seasons as a starter on the college or professional level — with the Redskins in 1999 and 2000 and the London Monarchs of the then-World League in 1995.

His other seasons were scuttled by injuries and what seemed to be a perpetual backup status. From his junior season at Florida State in 1990, when he was bounced to second-string midway through the season, through 1995 with the Vikings, he primarily held the clipboard; he didn't even as much as throw a pass in 1992 or 1993.

But the real trials of his career came later, when he saw the opportunity to lead the 1997 and 1998 Vikings into the playoffs slip away as a result of injuries.

Following the 1998 season, the Vikings decided on Cunningham, shipping Johnson to the Redskins for three draft picks. The winning didn't stop — Johnson has never been part of a losing season on the college or NFL level. But in spite of the Redskins' crushing divisional playoff loss to the Bucs on Jan. 15, 2000 and the signing of George that followed, he maintained his poise and grew as a leader.

"His leadership is second to none after what he has been through in Minnesota and Washington," Bucs center Jeff Christy, a former Vikings teammate, said. "I think he is a consummate professional who does the little things off the field."

Better yet, Johnson is healthy, having passed a physical before the press conference trumpeting his arrival.

"I feel the healthiest I've been in a long time," Johnson said. "I'm out there running sprints. I feel great." Now, he's a part of the Bucs' sprint to the title, his arrival serving as the most striking evidence yet that the team wants its first championship and no longer desires to wait in line.

"For us, it's a nice piece of the puzzle," general manager Rich McKay said. "It's very rare that you get to sign a quarterback that's a Pro Bowl quarterback, that's won as many games as he has."

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