QB Brad Johnson has run through a wide variety of experiences in the Metrodome
Some of the memories are glorious, like a four-touchdown afternoon against Arizona and a Player of the Week award in just his third career home start.
Some are painful, like a broken thumb in 1998 that ended not only a big passing day against New Orleans but his opportunity to unseat Warren Moon.
Some are downright outrageous, like a deflected ball in 1997 that made him the only NFL player ever to complete a touchdown pass to himself.
Many, many things have happened to Brad Johnson in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis. During seven seasons as a Minnesota Viking (1992-98), Johnson pretty much ran the gamut of experiences and emotions in the Vikings' home stadium, from entire falls in which didn't throw a single pass to immediate success as a starting quarterback
But here's a new one.
On Sunday, Johnson will walk into the Metrodome as a visitor, the offensive leader of the invading offense.
The raucous Metrodome crowd won't be on his side this time around, but Johnson still expects to hear some cheers, and not just as he reminisces.
"I think the fans will stand up and cheer for me," he said. "They saw me as a punk kid, coming in just 22 years old. I have built a relationship with the fans up there and I did a lot of things with the community. That's why my heart will always be there because I spent the majority of my career there. I have so many football memories up there."
Viking fans should remember Johnson's Minnesota story line as one of persistence. An unheralded 1992 ninth-round pick out of Florida State, where he mainly backed up former Buccaneer Casey Weldon, Johnson hooked on as the Vikings' third quarterback but didn't see the field for two years.
Though he moved up to second string in 1994, Johnson remained stuck behind Warren Moon, so he headed off to the World League the next spring to get some much-needed live game experience. A few more spot appearances in the fall of '95 and a Moon injury the next season paved the way for Johnson's final step up to starter in 1996. He put together an outstanding 1997 season but was struck with his own string of injuries in '98, his final season in Minnesota. No two seasons, it seemed, were the same during his Viking tenure.
"I was fortunate to be drafted and played many years there," said Johnson. "I had my ups and downs. And that is where I got my career started, so I'm grateful. It's kind of special to have the opportunity to get back there."
Johnson moved on to the Washington Redskins in 1999 after the Vikings committed to 1998 league MVP Randall Cunningham at quarterback. By that point, Johnson's stock had risen so dramatically from his original days of obscurity that it took the 'Skins a first (1999), second (2000) and third (1999) draft pick to pry him from the Vikings' grip. The Redskins' investment appreciated quickly, however, as Johnson threw for 4,000 yards, had a QB rating of 90.0 and made the Pro Bowl in '99. His 2000 season in the capital was derailed somewhat by a knee injury and the presence of Jeff George, but he still threw for 2,500 yards in 11 starts.
However, Johnson's two years in Washington never brought him back to the Metrodome. Nevertheless, the noise and atmosphere of the place has stuck in his mind.
"It's a tough place to play," he said, despite never being on the receiving end of the crowd's hostilities. "I think it's evident in what's happened to Tampa Bay (up there) over the last three years. Tampa Bay has played some good football, but has come up on the short end of the stick.
"It's a loud place and it's tough to communicate, and you have to stay away from turnovers. Their defense has done a great job of creating turnovers and hopefully we can avoid that. They have a lot of guys getting to the ball. That has always been the strength of their defense."
The Bucs scored 23 points in a losing effort last October in the Metrodome, their third-highest road point total of the season. Overall, Tampa Bay has scored 102 points in its last four games against the Vikings. Since Tony Dungy came over from the Minnesota staff to take over as the Bucs' head coach, Tampa Bay has scored 20.8 points per game against his former team. Yet every season it's the same thing: series split.
Johnson believes the Bucs can stop that trend in 2001, particularly since two consecutive off weeks have given his unit time to catch up on lost work.
"We are a team that is getting progressively better on offense," he said. "I missed the first week of practice during training camp and Mike Alstott, Jacquez Green and Jeff Christy were also out (at various times). We took our turns missing some practice and this will be the first time we are in the lineup together. We are just getting the communications together and getting into a rhythm, and that is also important."
Tampa Bay played its season opener – what, six months ago or so? – in Dallas without Christy and with Alstott still rounding back into playing form. The team struggled to score points against the underdog Cowboys, winning a close 10-6 affair, but did look mostly efficient in the passing game. Similarly, the usually high-flying Minnesota offense has scored well below its usual average, with just 23 points through two games, leading to an 0-2 start.
"I have played with many of the guys that are on that team," said Johnson. "The guys that are in that locker room and the guys that are on that roster -- where they have lost two in row -- are one of the better teams when facing adversity and playing through these types of situations. It's a game where they are trying to get their first win and we're trying to get our second win. It's a huge game and a division game."
"They have tremendous players, but that's a team that can bounce back from adversity better than anybody. We expect them to give us their best game this week and it's going to be a loud place. We have to play our best football."
At that point, anything can happen. Especially in the Metrodome, as Johnson can attest.