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Thousands and thousands of jerseys in the Sea of Red … millions of dollars spent by fans across the nation … the bragging by Chiefs fans … the pride felt by Chiefs fans … the chanting, “L.J., L.J., L.J.!”
Gone in 60 seconds.
What happened to L.J.? 1,750 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns in 2005. Pro Bowl. 1,789 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns in 2006. Pro Bowl. Eight games started in 2007.
And on November 4, 2007, everything changed. Larry was pulled down awkwardly by Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk and limped off the field. He would not play the rest of the year. There have been moments since then, moments which defined the L.J. of 2005 and 2006, the L.J. who Chiefs fans loved and worshiped. Those moments have been scarce, but each moment brought back the excitement to each and every Chiefs fan. L.J. is back, he’s back, he’s angry and he’s pissed. Watch Out!
Unfortunately, those moments were followed by letdowns. The ghost of L.J. past disappeared just as quickly as he appeared. Chiefs fans were again left wondering, what happened to L.J.?
Was it the new contract he signed? Was it the new coach? Was it the new scheme? Did he lose his heart? Did he lose his motivation? Did he lose the hunger to win? Does he party first and play football second? We may never know.
What I do know, is that when L.J. was punishing NFL defenses, he had the largest and loudest supporting cast in all of the NFL, Arrowhead Stadium, also known as the Sea of Red. Kansas City Chiefs fans from California to Maine were wearing Chiefs apparel, specifically Larry Johnson apparel, with pride. He even had his own line of apparel.
But, something went terribly wrong with Larry. The media portrayed a spoiled, self-centered, moody and unappreciative Larry Johnson, a person who didn’t care about his coaches, teammates or fans, a person who only cares about himself. And Larry lived up to it, somewhat, with his off-field problems. Did he kill anyone? No. Did he hurt anyone? No. Did he disrespect another human being. Yes. Did he disrespect himself, his employer and his fans? Absolutely.
But, is this the true Larry Johnson? Is the media correct in the image they have created? I don’t believe so.
Larry Johnson appears to those of us who don’t personally know him as an angry person at times, especially when the Chiefs lose. He shows his frustration, anger, disappointment and sadness on his sleeves and on camera. However, when the Chiefs are winning, he has done interviews, commercials, public relations events and even did a Herm Edwards spoof during a press conference. Everyone loved L.J. Every Chiefs fan needed L.J. But, the Chiefs coaches, players, fans and the NFL needed an angry L.J. There were banners that stated “Stay Angry, LJ” and “Run Angry, LJ” and NFL analysts and commentators who said the like. L.J. needed to keep the chip on his shoulder, he needed to keep his anger bottled up until Sundays and then unleash that anger on any defender who stood in his way.
He did and Chiefs fans loved it! Well, he did in 2005 and 2006. He did sporadically in Atlanta and Denver in 2008. There were flashes of old, but that was it, just flashes. As the flashes became common, so did the boos, the disdain and the talks of L.J. being a cancer to the Chiefs organization as a whole. The fans fell out of love with L.J. just as fast as they fell in love with him in 2005. However, it wasn’t all L.J.’s fault. He was beaten down for comments to the media about his disapproval with decisions being made within the organization, mainly his decrease in carrying the rock on Sundays.
L.J. wanted the ball; he wanted the ball in his hands all the time. He wanted it and needed it. He wanted to be the pillar on the offense. He was the machine. As L.J. went, so did the Chiefs.
Well, that’s how it used to be. Those days are gone as was the offense we knew during the Vermeil Era. Everything started to change when Herm Edwards came to Kansas City. It started in 2006 and continued on from there. Maybe the organization doesn’t want him, maybe the fans don’t want him and maybe L.J. doesn’t want either. It is truly a sad day in Middle America.
L.J. has a lot of tread still left on the tires. He has a lot of football left in his heart, the desire is still strong. The anger is somewhere, but can he find it? If you think about it, L.J. hasn’t played a lot. He really has only played three full seasons. He still has a lot to prove to himself, most importantly. He also has a lot of defenders to run over or through and a Super Bowl to win.
Would the Chiefs fans take the L.J. of 2005 or 2006, today? Would they take him to lead the new Chiefs into the 2009 season? It’s not too late.
I believe in L.J. I believe he truly cares about winning and playing football. I truly believe with help from his coaches, teammates and fans, he can get back to the Angry L.J., the one who destroyed defenders and opposing teams just a few years ago.
It’s up to L.J. to want to put forth the effort, time and commitment to make things right, to erase everything he said to the media and portrayed on camera. It’s time to start fresh. Time is not on L.J.’s side. There is no better time than now, when everything is fresh and new in Kansas City.
Run hard, run fast, run strong and run angry L.J.!