Keyshawn Johnson was awfully busy last Saturday morning, what
with the barbecue for about 40 that he would be hosting later
that day at his Los Angeles home. But the man whose midweek
trade had changed the face of the 2000 NFL draft understandably
felt compelled to see how the first round was playing out. So,
with a few friends and family members by his side, the newest
Tampa Bay Buccaneer turned on his TV just as his former team,
the New York Jets, used its first pick--the 12th on the board
and one of four the Jets would have in Round 1--to select
Tennessee defensive end Shaun Ellis.
"I thought, A defensive guy? Here they go again. I mean, I know
they can't replace me, but I thought maybe they'd at least try
to fill my position," Johnson, the Pro Bowl wide receiver, said
on Sunday with a hearty laugh. Make no mistake: Since he was
traded to the Bucs on April 12 for the 13th and 27th selections
in the draft, Johnson has been as happy "as I've seen him as a
professional," says his agent, Jerome Stanley. Of course,
Johnson's new six-year, $52 million contract extension, which
includes a $13 million signing bonus, has something to do with
his state of mind. Johnson confessed that he had a grin stuck on
his face all day Saturday, even as he spoke to the dozen former
Jets teammates who attended his barbecue. From them, he said,
came morose shakes of their heads. "They didn't want to talk
about it," said Johnson of the deal that sent him to Tampa Bay,
"like they couldn't believe it had happened."
That reaction was commonplace in New York. The city's tabloids
took daily swipes at the Jets for letting their fifth-year star
go, and many of the team's fans cut loose on sports talk shows.
Johnson spoke bluntly as well on Sunday, particularly about his
feelings toward New York's new coach, Al Groh. After the Jets
refused to renegotiate the receiver's $2.4 million-per-year
contract, which still had two seasons left on it, Groh likened
Johnson's reaction to that of an adolescent--"when you asked your
father for an increase in your allowance, and he said, 'Not right
Upon hearing that, Johnson became incensed. "I knew then that I
couldn't play for the guy," he said. "In the conversations we
had, he wasn't at all appealing to me. He was questioning me,
asking me if I can be a star for him, saying, 'I need you to be
a star on this team next year.' What the f--- did he think? Who
the f--- did he think I was, some nobody? He acted like I hadn't
done a f------ thing for the last four years, like I haven't
been in the league at all. I'm not a kid, begging for money."
Johnson believes that Groh and new owner Woody Johnson had a
desire to rebuild and wanted him gone all along, that they'd
hoped Johnson would overreact and look bad doing so, and thus
make them appear justified in trading him. "The only thing I can
think is that they're trying to buy time," said Johnson, who had
threatened to hold out if the Jets didn't renegotiate. "If I
look like the bad guy, then they can say, 'Well, we had to trade
him, and since we did, now we have to rebuild.' But if that's
so, just come out and say it--don't lie to the fans."
"We have the team we have now, and we're going to go play with
it," Groh said later on Sunday. "That story is done with me. It's
time for this team to get on with the future."
Keyshawn's feelings toward Woody Johnson were equally acerbic: "I
don't get him at all, maybe because I've never met or spoken to
the man. If I were him, I would've at least tried to see what I
looked like before I traded me. He bought the team in January,
and I was traded in April. He never spoke to me. What a joke. If
he would've come to me and said, 'Son, I'm a man of my word, and
though we can't do anything long-term for you now, here's what we
can do,' then I would've listened to whatever he had to say. But
that never happened."
Asked if he would have preferred to stay in New York had such a
dialogue occurred, Johnson betrayed more than a hint of
bitterness. "There are a lot of reasons I didn't want to go.
Hell, I just bought a brand-new house," he said. "But they hid
behind their policy [the team historically has refused to
renegotiate contracts with more than one year remaining on them],
and things never got that far."
When the subject of Bill Parcells--the former coach who as head
of football operations surely had a say in the trade--was
broached, Johnson, after a pause, was supportive. "I believe if
Bill Parcells was in charge, I wouldn't have been traded," he
said. "People tell me he must have had something to do with it,
but until he tells me otherwise, I'll believe he didn't.
"See, it's too much to follow Bill Parcells. Ray Handley
couldn't do it with the Giants, Pete Carroll couldn't do it in
New England. Groh knew it, too, so he wanted to rebuild, and in
a way I applaud him for that. Now Groh won't have the pressure
of winning with a Parcells team."
Nor, Johnson said, will he feel any pressure to win in Tampa Bay.
He looks forward to playing for coach Tony Dungy ("a proven
winner," Johnson said) and with such stars as 1999 NFL Defensive
Player of the Year Warren Sapp ("one of the great ones") and
second-year man Shaun King ("a good young QB"). When asked about
his fellow Bucs receivers, he took a swipe at their Jets
counterparts, saying, "We'll be just fine. I've produced for four
years, and it's not like I've been in some Jerry Rice-John Taylor
or Cris Carter-Randy Moss situation."
Johnson paused. He took a deep breath and chuckled as he exhaled.
"You know what?" said Johnson. "I'll really miss the fans, miss
hearing them yell, 'Keyshawn, you suck!' and 'Key, just be quiet
and catch the damn ball!' The fans are who I feel for now."
Another pause. "You know how, when someone passes, people say,
'Well, he's in a better place'?" Johnson said, his voice dropping
to the whisper of a man discussing the deceased. "Well, that's
me. I'm in a better place."
COLOR PHOTO: COVER PHOTOGRAPH BY WALTER IOOSS JR. COVER The Almighty Buc Keyshawn Johnson lands in Tampa, shakes up the draft and sticks it to the Jets
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Upward mobility Johnson's receiving totals increased in each of his four seasons with the Jets.