Derrick Johnson won’t be a Chief next year.
That sentence has not been true since before 2005. I had just turned 20 when DJ was drafted. I was single at the time and not attending college. In the time since Derrick Johnson was a Chief, I’ve gotten married, had five kids, completed a bunch of school junk, started a career and became a pastor (20-year-old me would’ve laughed his head off at that last part).
When DJ was drafted by the Chiefs, I had never heard of Arrowhead Pride.
Certain players stick with you more than others for reasons beyond their greatness (and DJ was, indeed, great. Not good... GREAT). With DJ, it’s not just about how great he became. It was about the journey that he went through to get there. We got to watch it happen.
We watched as the Chiefs STOLE him in the middle of the first round (I couldn’t believe the Chiefs were able to draft him). We watched as he flashed galaxies of potential and incredible athletic ability. We watched as he struggled with inconsistency for years and became labeled as a minor disappointment. We watched as Todd Haley benched him, seeming to put an end to any hope that DJ would ever be what we’d hoped.
Then we watched when DJ picked off a pair of passes and returned them for touchdowns against the Broncos (incidentally, the same game Jamaal Charles announced to the world what was coming). We watched him turn into a Pro Bowler, then into an All-Pro. We watched him inhale run after run.
Nobody did it better. Like he would teleport into the backfield. pic.twitter.com/9LkoKs5FP4— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) February 13, 2018
Year after year.
Year after year after year. Death, taxes, and DJ getting tackles for loss. pic.twitter.com/eOKln9BgeF— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) February 13, 2018
We watched as DJ went down with an Achilles injury in 2014, and we all freaked out, worrying if he’d ever be the same.
Then we watched as DJ, against all odds, at 33 years old, came back and was as good as ever.
Forever a Raider killer. pic.twitter.com/Rh9bqsfuDz— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) February 13, 2018
We even got to watch when he made the greatest individual goal-line stand in history.
Yes, I said “the greatest individual goal-line stand in history.” No one has ever done anything like that before over the course of four goal-to-go plays. I will fight anyone to the death over this.
Then... we watched when DJ went down with another Achilles tear. We watched as he (of course) worked his tail off to come back and be ready for 2017, a freakish accomplishment for anyone, let alone a player in his mid-30s. We watched as the guy we didn’t think would ever slow down started to slow down. We watched Father Time—that heartless, cruel, invincible monster—finally start to win against even the best of us.
We watched as DJ turned back the clock for just a moment, giving us one last, “Good Lord, I think Derrick Johnson just killed a guy!” for the road.
Nobody shot gaps like DJ. Nobody laid guys out like DJ. Nobody wiped out legs like DJ. Nobody combined coverage skills with inexplicably stone hands (did he ever have a pick he didn’t bobble first?) like DJ. No one materialized in the backfield and genuinely surprised runners like DJ. No one celebrated like DJ. No one wanted it more than DJ.
Way back when I weighed 170 pounds and didn’t even know how to spell “commitment,” the Chiefs drafted one of the most unique players I had ever seen. 13 years, a thousand tackles, and what felt like just a few blinks later, he’s moving on.
Derrick Johnson was great. And I wish like crazy that I could watch him for the first time all over again. Some days caring about football involves an odd amount of pain.
Thanks for the memories DJ. You were the greatest.