NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS LINEBACKER TED JOHNSON CONFERENCE CALL
July 28, 2005
TJ: I don't know who is on the line, but I just want to be sure to thank everybody. You are all professionals. We've had a professional relationship for a long time. I just want to thank you first for the support. I know everybody has a job to do. The support that I have been getting from you has been nice. Hopefully this format will satisfy everyone. I just want to say this has not been easy for me. This has been a very difficult decision and it was something that didn't just happen overnight. It's been ongoing for a little while although I wish the timing were different because I feel like my coaches and my teammates deserve better. Sometimes those things are out of your hands. I don't have anything else to add. So if anyone has any questions you can go ahead.
Q: Can you talk about how this came about? Was it a recent visit to the doctor?
TJ: Honestly, something didn't sit right with my body, really, the whole offseason. I knew something didn't feel right, I just couldn't figure out what it was. I did go for somewhat of a general physical to my personal physician. What he found out was that there was enough evidence to have serious concerns for some, obviously, head trauma, but there are a lot of symptoms that suggested that there could be some long term affects from the head trauma. I really didn't put in much time or energy [into diagnosing the problem] after that. I didn't think it was an issue that I needed to pursue with any real urgency. But, he pushed me and pushed me and from some of the neuropsychological testing that was done, there was enough evidence [to show] there was something more serious than I wanted to believe. I did do an MRI on my brain. Thankfully, there was nothing too, too, bad to really worry about. However, there is still some evidence of head trauma. Well, surprise, surprise, I play football. That is what we do. It was a feeling that I struggled with because I am a football player. I've been doing this since I was 14. So, since I was 14, every fall, I've been playing football. This is my job and I take a lot of pride in it. There came a time when I couldn't ignore my feelings anymore, where I had to address the emotional part of stepping back on the field when every piece of your body says, 'This is not good.' There was evidence to support that and I ignored it for a while. That is kind of how it came about. I apologized to Coach [Bill] Belichick for the timing and to Mr. [Robert] Kraft because I just felt that the timing was something that was out of my hands but also I wanted them to know that those were not my intentions, to come to this decision the day before camp.
Q: During this whole process, did Tedy Bruschi's situation come into you thought process at all after seeing what he has gone through?
TJ: That is a good question. Probably on a subconscious level [it did]. I felt this way before Tedy had his health issues. I have had a history of head trauma and concussions, predominantly in the last three years. There have been times out there where I have felt that my head didn't feel right, where I just knew there was something wrong. You just keep playing, that is what you do. That is what football players do. To see what happened to Tedy, it really didn't affect me in any direct way. Maybe on a subconscious level. This is the honest truth; I haven't felt well long before Tedy had his health issues.
Q: When you were with us [on Fox Sports New England] last Thursday you talked about an expanded role in playing time. Did this decision really come down to the last couple days?
TJ: I had a serious discussion with my family and a mentor of mine about how I was feeling months ago. We all decided that it was okay to play football. I was fully committed. I didn't miss one workout, one meeting. I was present for everything. My intentions were all along and even when we talked to play football and to play at a level that I expect to play at. I wasn't lying to you my man. I felt it then and the closer I got to camp the more I started feeling like my body was telling me something and I just couldn't ignore the evidence that was there about the brain injuries and the concussions. It was something that I really wasn't willing to take the risk for. I love the sport and everything football has given me. I love this community and especially the Kraft family. I just can't emphasis it enough what Mr. Kraft ... he has been more than a boss for me. He has truly been a mentor and very loyal to me. The fans too. The fans have been hugely supportive of me my entire career. I don't think a lot of people expected me to make it this far. I just kind of kept showing up with the injuries that mounted. There were times when I second-guessed my decision to play, but I just kept coming back because I love the game and I love the community. I love the support I got from the Kraft family. I was playing for all the pure reasons. Maybe I was trying to convince myself. Maybe if I said it then I could convince myself that this was the right thing. Quite honestly it hit me like a bolt of lightning. I couldn't ignore this. I really needed to address it and I did. It was a very, very difficult decision.
Q: Can you talk specifically about the symptoms that were telling you that your body couldn't play any more?
TJ: There were symptoms that you would associate with a concussion ... the irritability, cognitive clarity, sleep has been an issue, my memory. There was a lot of evidence about memory loss and those kinds of things. And just the feeling and when I was out there and how when I was putting my head into somebody I didn't feel like my head hurt or that I might have blurred vision. That is a part of the game and that is the way that I played it. That was what was going on. I just ignored it for a long time. My mind and my spirit wanted to do it so bad. I wanted to play so bad but my body knew it wasn't going to get done. I can't go out there and [not give my full effort.] That is just not my style and I have too much dignity to go out there and not play as hard as I can play. I owe more than that to my teammates.
Q: Was this a doctor saying that you were not medically clear? It sounds to me just by the way you were talking that it was not a good idea, but it was your decision really? TJ That is absolutely true. It is my decision. It was strongly, strongly urged and suggested that I not play. That I should consider the ramifications. Could I still play? I can still play but I open myself to potentially some damaging long-term health issues. With all due respect, I love this game. It's given me more than I ever hoped for. But at the end of the day when I look at my wife and four kids, god bless you all and all the fans involved, but those [family] are the most important things to me. I just hope that I have the wits and intuition to know that when it's time to go you better go. When your body tells you its time, you'd better listen to it.
Q: Ted, I'm not sure if you were already asked this, I apologize if you were, did Tedy Bruschi's decision with he had to wrestle with at all help to give you any kind of insight with what you were dealing with as well?
TJ: It certainly looks like that to some people. It had no bearings at all in what I was going through. Not at all. What I was going through was my own stuff. What happened to Tedy wasn't the emphasis for me. Looking into my concussions further, the way I was feeling was unfortunately the way I was feeling long before. Unfortunately, Tedy had a stroke. Really the two issues, they're not connected whatsoever.
Q: It sure looks like the Patriots have had a lot of setbacks since last season. Coaches and players lost. How do you feel about the strength and weakness of the team?
TJ: Not to change subjects or anything, but I'm optimistic. I'm not a betting man, but if I were it would be hard for me to bet against any Coach Belichick team. I told him this morning that I was proud I was associated with him for five years and part of those championships. I have a lot of respect for him and how he conducts business in this profession. Without getting too specific, I think we're going to be fine. Coach Mangini, who I was lucky enough to see today, is more than qualified to run our defense and take that next step. When #12 [Tom Brady] is pulling the trigger you got a chance in this league. If you don't have a confident signal caller, it's hard to win games. I am very lucky to play in a time when I got to play with Tom Brady because he was one of the reasons why we won the championships.
Q: You had one of your best seasons last year with over 100 tackles, third on the team. Does that make it somewhat easier to look back and say 'You know I'm heading out on a really high note here?'
TJ: It's funny because you wrestle with that emotionally. Hey, we all want to go out like John Elway, but who goes out like John Elway. With a parade and Super Bowl win. You can't dictate the ending. For most guys it ends with bitterness and sadness. I never ever wanted to feel that way. It was very important for me when I came in the league in '95, if I could at all leave without bitterness or resentment I would like to do that. Quite honestly, if I could play 10 more years, I would. If my body would let me, I would. I just thought I was going to play forever. Thank God there is still value in the style of play, which I play with. The game offensively has changed so much it's become more and more difficult to bring value to a team. Coach Belichick was great in using me and my strengths.
Q: What's next for you?
TJ: That's unclear right now. Right now I'm being just close to my family. It's a big emotional change. By all means, I don't need pity or sympathy. But when you have been doing something since your freshman year in high school and you had a way of life for so long, it's a very difficult change emotionally. I'm going to miss people asking me about how they had tickets for the Patriots, are [I] excited about the season or what do [I] think about this. I love talking about my job and I love connecting with the fans of New England. And that's what's going to be the most difficult for my family because they are going to miss that. My son would come into a room and hangout with Willie [McGinest], Troy [Brown], Tedy [Bruschi] and Vrabes [Mike Vrabel]. That's life we all go through it. I'll be fine, I'll deal with it. What is happening for me afterwards is not clear. I have a lot confidence in my ability and have a lot of pride in my work ethic. I feel very good in whatever it is, it's going to be very meaningful and purposeful. I'm excited about the next step.
Q: Given the time, in terms of how you said that you had these feelings before Tedy and his [injury] happened after the season... so would it be accurate to say that you played the last few games of the season and the Super Bowl with concussion syndrome or some effects of a concussion.
A: It really hit me this year and that's the truth guys. After the season, I just felt like I was really putting myself at risk by playing again. And I do that every time I step on the field, but I really felt like this time there could be irreparable damage and serious damage. There's just a history of concussions that you can't ignore. I laugh a little bit because Troy Aikman, when he was having his concussions, it was almost like a countdown when he'd come off the field. Really, we didn't know much about it and football players, we really don't want to know. I don't want to see injuries. That's something I don't even want to know about. That's how we keep our edge- to think that we are physically in top condition and that nobody can beat us when it comes down to it. The reality is that your body breaks down and that is the nature of this business. The way I play... I don't run around blocks. I'm always trying to hit them before they hit me and that was my style. I just couldn't ignore it anymore and I just knew something wasn't right. Has it been lingering for more than this year? Perhaps, but I didn't really put any thought into it.
Q: How many diagnosed concussions did you have in your football career even going back to Colorado?
A: I don't know. I can't even remember.
Q: Would you say even up to a dozen? Or five or six?
A: I don't know if it's a dozen but I think its safe to say at least half a dozen I guess.
Q: And that's diagnosed as in, "Teddy you had a concussion today."
A: There's a lot of times when I had to get my bearings and get my sight back to normal to be able to call a play and that was my stubbornness and my "Hey you're okay and lets go." People say, "bell rung." And that's true... sometimes you get your bell rung, but you don't feel like your head is still shaking or that you can't focus to get your call from your signal caller. And that happened more times than it should have, that I let it go and maybe didn't say anything. But that's the truth. It happened more frequently than I care to remember, quite honestly.
Q: What stands out the most for you over these years on the team?
A: That's a great question. I think it's hard to pinpoint one thing. I think it's just the evolution of my career- where I started and where I finished. The emotional growth I've gone through. I had expectations when I came in and I thought I was going to be... I came in with a bang, and I was humbled. I've been humbled my last four of five years. I've had to learn to adjust my priorities and adapt to different coaching styles, which wasn't always easy but was best for the team. More than anything is the friendships you cultivate and the memories you collect. The most important thing for me is collecting memories and I have a million of them. I'd bore you with my stories. There are many games that people don even talk about that still stand out. Drew [Bledsoe's] back to back wins against Miami and Buffalo at home... on last minute plays... games like that; the '96 Super Bowl; how we fought in the Giants game that year and won on the last play of the game; my rookie year playing next to Vincent Brown. Some of my favorite times were with Todd Collins, "Swamp Chicken." For three years I couldn't wait to get to work just to listen to Collins talk. His demeanor and his outlook on life lifted my spirits every day. And to see Willie- where he started and where he is now, he's such a stud. And Adam [Viniatieri] and Tedy, it's like we all grew up here. I grew up here. I found my family here. I came here knowing nothing, and I still probably don't know much, but I have roots and I never had roots in my life. I was a drifter most of my life and I haven't lived anywhere longer than I've lived here and that makes me feel pretty dang good.
Q: Is this going to be home for you?
A: I'm not sure. In the short term, absolutely. I have kids in school. It's hard to believe, but I have to start thinking about other people than myself, and that wasn't easy. That was another lesson I had to learn. I have a wonderful family I have to think about and what's best for them. I'm kind of a San Diego boy at heart. If I could where flip-flops year round I'd be happy, but I also can appreciate what New England has to offer. Boston is a unique city with tremendous opportunities, so I'm going to be open minded and see what opportunities there might be for me here.
Q: [Thanks, congratulations, well wishes]. Say hello to your father for me...
TJ: You know my dad is a... this was hard on my dad because he didn't expect it. He was the guy who never played sports and never dreamed his son would play High School football let alone football in the NFL, so he is taking this probably harder than anyone else, so thanks for asking about him