EDITOR'S NOTE: *This article originally appeared in the Houston Texans Gameday magazine on Sept. 9, 2012, for the Texans' home game against the Miami Dolphins.
As if the city of Miami wasn't special enough to Andre Johnson, the times he has suited up against the Dolphins have been special in their own ways.
As a rookie in 2003, Johnson, a Miami native and All-American a
t the University of Miami, made his NFL debut against his hometown team. He had six catches for 76 yards as the fledgling Texans pulled off a surprise 21-20 victory on the road in Week 1 of their second season of existence.
In 2006, Johnson had a 101-yard output against the Dolphins on nine catches, one of which was a touchdown, as the Texans won 17-15 at Reliant Stadium.
Two years later, Johnson had 10 receptions for 178 yards and a score in a 29-28 victory over Miami in Houston. Among his receptions was a circus 23-yard catch over and around Dolphins safety Yeremiah Bell on fourth-and-10 in the game's final minute, which kept alive the Texans' game-winning drive.
Late in the 2009 season, Johnson helped the Texans push their record to 8-7 with five catches for 71 yards and a touchdown in a 27-20 road victory at Miami.
In 2011, Johnson and the Texans returned to Miami yet again. Johnson hauled in seven catches for 93 yards and a touchdown as Houston won 23-13 in Week 2.
That's five victories against the Dolphins for Johnson and the Texans. Add in another triumph in 2007 when Johnson was out due to injury, and the Texans are a perfect 6-0 all-time against today's opponent.
When Johnson steps on the field today, he will be the only player in franchise history to have played with the Texans for 10 years. Johnson's sustained era of personal excellence – five Pro Bowls, two first-team All-Pro selections, two seasons leading the league in receiving yards and receptions – despite some down times for the team is just one of the reasons he is looked to as a leader.
All offseason, a topic of conversation about the Texans dealt with Johnson's role as a mentor to second-year wide receiver Lestar Jean and rookies DeVier Posey and Keshawn Martin. Following the first practice of training camp, the man of few words offered up some wisdom for the young crew of pass-catchers.
"We all huddled up (and) I told them, 'You just go in and watch the film, correct your mistakes and just keep trying to get better,'" Johnson said. "'That's the only way you can look at it. You're going to have a bunch of practices. It's going to be a fight, it's tough. Training camp stuff is not easy. If you approach it that way and try to improve your game every time you come out here, you'll be fine.'"
Johnson's actions and words even rubbed off on kick returner Trindon Holliday, who on Monday was quick to point out the team captain's influence on him over the past two years.
"I talk to Andre a lot," Holliday said. "He told me to just come out, stay focused and work hard and just come out and prepare every day like it's your last and you'll be alright."
The amount of influence those words had on Holliday can be debated, but his production in the month of August can't. The third-year return-man electrified the squad and the fanbase with a trio of returns for touchdowns, and a few other long ones to boot, and Holliday made the 53-man roster.
Johnson's influence also impacted Posey, a third-round draft pick from Ohio State.
"To see Andre every day and Kevin Walter, the biggest thing is consistency, being able to do it on the practice field every single rep and bring it to the game," Posey said after the Texans' preseason finale against Minnesota. "I'm a rookie, but I think I'm starting to understand that it is consistency and translating that to the game."
Posey's first catch in the preseason came when he took a John Beck pass over the middle and went 80 yards for a touchdown against the Vikings. He called it a "weight off" his shoulders after being blanked in the stats column in the first three preseason contests. But Johnson's proximity and presence make the rookie want to deliver even more.
"I want to help these vets out," Posey said. "I just want to be a part of this. I love coming into work every day. I have a locker next to Andre Johnson."
For his part, Johnson wasn't at all surprised by Posey's 80-yard outburst, or any of the plays made by the Texans' young receivers this preseason.
"All these guys can play," Johnson said. "It's not a secret. It just about them taking advantage of their opportunities. I just tell them, 'Whenever you get an opportunity, make the best of it.'"
Johnson, 31, spent all of OTAs and mini-camp watching the younger receivers and the rest of his teammates practice. Arthroscopic knee surgery in the offseason sidelined him in May and early June before he was able to resume work at training camp in late July.
Because of that surgery, the hamstring injuries that sidelined Johnson for 10 games in 2011 and a play in the third preseason game at New Orleans that forced Johnson to exit in the second quarter, there's a bit of trepidation about Johnson and injuries. But there's none with Johnson.
"I think people just read into it too much," Johnson said in the locker room after the Saints game. "I guess when you see me walk off the field, people are like 'Oh, what happened now?' If it was the regular season, I would've been back on the field playing."
The regular season *is *now, and Johnson gets to suit up with his teammates in the first contest of what they believe will be a special 2012. No one is hungrier for it than Johnson, who fittingly plays the first game of his 10th season against his hometown team, just like he did back in 2003.
"The past two seasons have been pretty rough for me, battling through different injuries, so I just don't want to be back in that situation again where I have to miss seven, eight, nine games," Johnson said. "I want to get back to that 1,500-yard Andre, so hopefully that can happen this year."