It’s still hard to believe, even when I see it in print.
“Andre Johnson to retire a Texan.”
It’s not so much the retire as a TEXAN as much as it is RETIRE as a Texan. I can remember first hearing about Andre when I was a head coach in Jacksonville, Florida and he was a high school senior at Miami Senior High School. Although we all wanted to believe that we played great high school football in northeast Florida, we all KNEW that the studs came out of south Florida and Andre was certainly one of those.
He was not a product of the Youtube generation so we didn’t get to see him until he arrived at Miami. With a receiver depth chart that included Reggie Wayne and Santana Moss, the Hurricanes redshirted Andre in 1999. The following season as a redshirt freshman in 2000, he had all of three catches. Late in the 2001 season, though, Johnson broke out, thanks in large part to what I call the Keyuo Craver incident.
Craver was a Nebraska cornerback with an NFL future and he was charged with covering Andre in the 2002 Rose Bowl - 2001 National Championship game. It didn’t go well for Craver.
At first, it did though. Craver picked off Miami quarterback Ken Dorsey off a Nebraska blitz early in the game. After Nebraska turned the ball back over to the Hurricanes, Dorsey looked for Johnson and found him wide open for a 50-yard walk-in touchdown catch. Why was he so open?
Craver tried to press Andre at the line of scrimmage and Andre snatched Craver with one arm and yanked the Nebraska star cornerback right to the ground. Like Courtland Finnegan realized years later, Craver found that Johnson wasn’t a guy you wanted to put hands on, if you will. Then, on the very next play, Andre was on the kickoff cover team that forced a fumble and the rout was on.
That touchdown was just the start, though. Six catches later, Johnson took home Rose Bowl co-MVP honors after his seven catch, 199 yard, two touchdown night. His star rose from that point forward.
Andre had 66 catches for 976 yards and four touchdowns...IN HIS ROOKIE YEAR. The numbers are obscene, especially when you consider that Andre only played two 16 game seasons with a Pro Bowl quarterback.
But, it was one touchdown that I’ll always remember when it comes to Andre and I’m reminded of it every time we have our department meeting in our main boardroom.
Week two, 2010 at Washington.
The Texans thumped the Colts in the opener when Arian Foster burst on the scene with the greatest rushing performance in team history. However, the Texans couldn’t seem to get out of the starting blocks the following week at Washington. But, after chipping away at the Redskins’ lead, the Texans trailed by a touchdown with just over two minutes left.
It was fourth and ten, though, and with only two time outs left, if the Texans didn’t convert, there wasn’t going to be much time left for a Hail Mary attempt. Every Texans fan on the face of the earth was screaming to throw the ball to Andre and the Redskins didn’t need to hear our screams to know where quarterback Matt Schaub wanted to throw the ball.
Redskins cornerback and former Miami teammate Philip Buchanon was five yards off in coverage on Andre and safety Reed Doughty was aligned nearly directly behind him. If someone was going to beat them, the Redskins decided that it wasn’t going to be 80.
Only Buchanon and the Redskins know for sure, but it appeared that the Redskins wanted to play underneath and over the top of Andre. Buchanon planned to trail underneath and undercut any in breaking route, while Doughty was stationed over the top to squeeze down on any in route.
The problem, well for them, was that Andre read the coverage perfectly. As soon as he saw Doughty all alone, he knew that if he went vertical at that point, he would be one-on-one with the Redskins safety. Advantage 80. So, he took off for the end zone.
Doughty thought he was in good position and it seemed that he truly was as they both looked back for a potential home run throw to the end zone.
One thing I will always remember about Andre was his incredible body control. He was so smooth in and out of his cuts and his routes, but he could position himself in the perfect spot to have a shot to catch anything thrown his way. He did that to Doughty by essentially boxing him out as Schaub launched a rainbow toward the end zone.
Johnson skied over Doughty, who had to know he was in trouble at this point.
As Johnson snatched the ball out of the air, Doughty ripped Johnson’s left arm straight down, hoping that the ball would come loose.
Nope. Touchdown. Tie game. The Texans went on to win in overtime and move to 2-0 on the season.
The more I looked at that sequence, I found two more shots that amplified the greatness of this play. Receivers are taught to go up and get the ball at its highest point. Focus on the ball. Thumbs together and snatch it. This picture should be in a receiving instructional book.
Then, there was Doughty futilely trying to rake the ball away from Johnson, grasping his arm, yet Johnson transitioned the ball quickly to his right hand and secured it for the touchdown. All that was left was the spike.
It’s difficult to fully comprehend while watching absolute greatness on a week in and week out basis, but that’s what we had the opportunity to do for 13 seasons in Houston. We were the lucky ones, that’s for sure.