Publish date:


Two minutes before a midseason practice last year, punter
Lee Johnson stood by his locker and stared back and forth from
his orange-and-black helmet to his gray cellular phone. Johnson,
who worked as a stockbroker at Merrill Lynch on Wall Street
during his off-seasons, laced up his spikes and took one final
look at the stock prices flashing on his handheld QuoTrek
monitor. Johnson had heavily invested in Adobe Systems, and the
stock was dropping like one of his coffin-corner kicks. Should I
grab my helmet or the cell phone? he thought. Helmet or cell
phone? Helmet? Cell phone?

Johnson grabbed the phone, hit speed dial and blurted to his
broker, "Sell, sell, sell."

"When you're in the market, you have to be ready for stuff to
blow up in your face," says Johnson, 33, who also handles
kickoff and holding duties for Cincinnati. "I was long in that
stock, and it was falling fast. The price could have gone down
30 percent by the time practice had ended. I heard the whistle
blow for practice, and I stayed on the phone. I got fined by
Coach, but I would have lost more if I had stayed in that stock."

Johnson, who would have won last year's AFC punting title if he
had averaged 1.7 more inches per kick, first became interested
in the stock market as a marketing major and barefoot kicker at
Brigham Young. Selected in the fifth round by the Oilers in the
1985 draft, Johnson became the first shoeless punter in
professional football since Henry (Hawaiian) Hughes of the 1932
Boston Braves. Following stints in Buffalo and Cleveland,
Johnson landed with Cincinnati in 1988 where, after donning a
shoe for more kicking control, he began to corner the market on
Bengal punting records. Johnson has twice kicked a team-record
70-yard punt with Cincinnati; he also had the longest punt in
Super Bowl history, a 63-yarder against the 49ers in 1989.

Since Super Bowl XXIII, though, his growing stock portfolio is
every bit as impressive as his punting statistics. Johnson
currently ranks third in the NFL with a 45.9-yard punting
average. The activity in his portfolio has become so frantic
that over the last two years he has paid his brokers $100,000 in
transaction fees. His holdings concentrate heavily in
aggressive-growth stocks, which have a tendency to turn on a
moment's notice. Johnson constantly monitors the trading on Wall
Street from his desktop computer at home, from his QuoTrek at
practice or, on days off, in person at the Paine Webber offices
in downtown Cincinnati. Several years ago Johnson's broker's
license expired. "Punting out of the back of your own end zone
can be scary, but managing other people's money, now that's
pressure," says Johnson, who found he didn't enjoy trading with
his clients' personal funds. "If you think people are passionate
about their football team, you should see what they're like when
it comes to their money. Now that's real risk."


COLOR PHOTO: DAVID LIAM KYLE Off the field the Bengals' punter gets a big kick out of staying on top of the market. [Lee Johnson]