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John McClain goes behind the scenes with Andre Johnson for the Hall of Fame's 'big reveal' 

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Sitting in the kitchen area of his home in Southwest Houston on a pleasant January afternoon, Andre Johnson had no idea about the crowd gathering outside his front door. Two cargo vans and an oversized SUV had quietly pulled into his massive driveway and were unloading with a practiced precision.

While Johnson relaxed and chatted with his mother, brother, daughter and a close friend, he was oblivious to the small army from the Pro Football Hall of Fame and NFL Films that was about to provide him with a monumental moment that would immortalize him in Canton, Ohio for his extraordinary career with the Texans.

Former Minnesota receiver Cris Carter, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2014, wore his gold jacket when he knocked loudly on Johnson's front door. There was no answer. Carter waited a few seconds and knocked again. When Johnson finally opened the door and saw Carter, cameras, boom mics and everyone involved in what the Hall of Fame calls the "big reveal," his mother, Karen, screamed, and Johnson's life changed forever.

"Sometimes, it kind of feels like I've been dreaming since I found out," Johnson said about his once-in-a-lifetime experience. "When I heard the knock on the door, I went to unlock it. When I looked outside, all I could see was a gold coat or jacket. I didn't have any idea it was Cris Carter wearing his gold Hall of Fame jacket. When I opened the door, I saw Cris with a big smile and all the cameras and people, and my mom started screaming and hugging me, and I was like, 'Oh, my God!' I couldn't believe it. I had so much emotion, a feeling different than anything I've ever experienced."

Carter shook the 42-year-old Johnson's hand vigorously while welcoming him to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2024. Johnson stood there nodding in his white socks and green University of Miami pullover and shorts. He knew Carter was talking to him, but it wasn't registering because he was so numb.

"I was in shock, really," Johnson said, smiling at the memory. "I can't remember what Cris said. I couldn't really process what was happening. Through the years – as a fan of the game – I'd watched it happen on TV to other guys, but I'd never really thought much that there would be a day when it would happen to me and how I might react. I never got my hopes up too high about it. That's probably why I was so surprised and overwhelmed by the experience. This just means so much to me and my family."

Andre Johnson speaks with Steve Wyche moments after learning he would be part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2024.

Not to mention how much it also means to fans in Houston and Miami, Johnson's hometown, where he played for the Hurricanes before Texans' general manager Charley Casserly used the third overall pick in the 2003 draft to select him. Johnson and other members of the Class of 2024 were announced Thursday night on the NFL Honors Show. Johnson, defensive end Julius Peppers, defensive end Dwight Freeney, linebacker Patrick Willis, kick returner Devin Hester, defensive tackle Steve McMichael and linebacker Randy Gradishar will be inducted on Aug. 3.

"I don't know if it's really sunk in yet," Johnson said. "It might not until I walk across that stage in Canton."

Among those participating in the "big reveal" at Johnson's home were Pro Football Hall of Fame president Jim Porter and Rich Derosiers, the Hall's chief communications and content officer. The NFL Network's Steve Wyche was also there to interview Johnson about the experience. When the crowd entered Johnson's house and the moment began to sink in, he got emotional. He had to take a couple of minutes to move to a sofa, sit and compose himself before being interviewed.

"Since it happened, I haven't been able to sleep past 3 in the morning," he said. "I keep waking up thinking about it and wondering if I'd dreamed it. I'm like, 'Man, I really can't believe this is happening to me.'"

Playing for coach Dom Capers as a rookie, Johnson was an instant star who became a superstar and played 12 of his 14 seasons with the Texans. He was the first player inducted into the Texans' Ring of Honor at NRG Stadium. J.J. Watt was inducted last season. They reside in the rafters with the franchise's late founder, Bob McNair. Now Johnson will be the first Texan enshrined in Canton. In four years, Watt should be the second.

"For me to be the first Texan in the Hall of Fame, it speaks volumes, and I can't express how much it means to me," Johnson said. "There's nothing like being the first for this franchise. That's something I'll always be remembered for. That's such a very, very big thing to me. I want to thank the McNairs – Janice, Hannah and Cal – as well as the coaches, players and everyone else in the organization that helped me get here.

"I've been thinking about when I came to the Texans, and no one really respected us. That was kind of like a chip on my shoulder. I always wanted to play well enough to be respected and help the organization be respected."

After learning he will join the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2024, Andre Johnson takes a moment to compose himself. The Pro Football Hall of Fame and NFL Films surprised Andre with the news.

Johnson certainly played well enough to be respected, and he was the team's first superstar who helped the Texans win their first two AFC South titles and two playoff games under coach Gary Kubiak. Johnson caught 1,062 passes for 14,185 yards and 70 touchdowns, including 1,012 receptions for 13,597 yards and 64 touchdowns with the Texans.

Johnson established himself as one of the greatest receivers in NFL history. Check out how his statistics compare to some receivers already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame:

  • Johnson had five seasons with at least 100 receptions, one more than Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison.
  • Johnson had three 1,500-yard seasons, tied with Harrison for second and one behind Rice.
  • Johnson had three seasons with at least 100 receptions and 1,500 yards, tied with Harrison for the most and one ahead of Rice.
  • Johnson had 10 games with at least 10 catches and 150 yards, tied with Jerry Rice for the most.
  • Johnson, Rice and Calvin Johnson are the only receivers since 1960 to lead the league in catches in back-to-back seasons.

Johnson also set a league record with 21 games with at least 10 catches and 100 yards. He had 51 games with at least 100 yards. He stayed in such incredible shape that in his last three seasons with the Texans – 2012-14 when he was 31, 32 and 33 – he averaged 102 catches and 1,280 yards.

"Andre elevated our franchise from an expansion team to a playoff team," Kubiak said. "He did so much for the organization. I take a great deal of pride in his accomplishments. He got so much attention from opposing defenses, we had to put a lot on him. We moved him around – outside, inside, in the backfield, lots of motion. I was very demanding of him, and he always responded the way we wanted him to.

"Andre put us in position to make the playoffs and compete for a championship. He's one of the greatest players I've ever coached. There's never been any doubt in my mind that he deserved to be in the Hall of Fame because he's one of the greatest receivers in history."

One of the "greatest receivers in history" was kept in the dark and had no clue of what was about to happen at his home, where he was relaxing with his mother, daughter Kylie and brother Willie when they heard the knock on the front door.

Andre Johnson takes a moment for himself after learning he will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"Kennard really sold it," Johnson said. "I had no idea what he was up to. He never gave me or my family any indication that something like that was up. I still can't believe he was able to pull it off."

Kennard McGuire also was there, smiling and holding back tears. McGuire is a long-time Houston sports agent who's represented some of the best players in history, including Pro Football Hall of Fame clients like linebacker Andre Tippett and offensive tackle Orlando Pace. After the selection committee voted on the Class of 2024, Johnson was elected in his third year of eligibility. 

Porter, the Hall of Fame president, and other members of his staff go to great pains to make sure the newest class doesn't find out about their election until they get the knock. In Johnson's case, the Hall of Fame reached out to McGuire for help. McGuire was asked to find a way to make sure Johnson was at home at 2:30 p.m. on an afternoon in late January.

To his credit, McGuire concocted a plan so brilliant it turned out to be true. McGuire and Johnson are extremely close – "like family," -- as McGuire puts it. Johnson is like an older brother to McGuire's oldest son, Kennard Jr. They're so close Johnson accompanied Junior on a visit to Harvard, where he'll be a freshman and play football in the fall.

McGuire had been thinking about adding Johnson to his will to make sure his children are taken care of in case something happens to him and his wife, Dawn. McGuire never told anyone in his family or Johnson's family anything about the Hall of Fame. To get everybody together, McGuire told Johnson he would come to his house to sign the papers to be added to his will and that he needed two witnesses, recommending Johnson's mother and brother.

"It's never been an agent-client relationship," McGuire said. "It's always been family. He's always been there with my son going back to Little League football. He came to games every year. I did add him (to his will) because he's someone my son completely respects, admires and looks up to like a brother.

"So we were at Andre's house, and everyone thought we were waiting on my attorney. When the Hall texted saying their flight was late and it would be like 3:30, I just told Andre my attorney's flight back to Houston was delayed. Let me tell you, it was a painful couple of weeks because I knew I couldn't tell anyone. The last week or so, it was really difficult to keep quiet about it because Andre and I communicate almost every day, but I knew it had to be a surprise when they knocked on his door."

And it was. Looking back at the experience, McGuire and Johnson are still amazed the Hall of Fame's secret never got out before he answered the door.

"I had no idea," Johnson said. "Kennard told me he wanted to change his will and put me in it, to be responsible for his son if something were to happen to him. He told me he needed two witnesses and suggested I get my mom and brother to be there when his attorney arrived. I didn't think anything about it. I didn't think anything was up when Kennard said his attorney was going to be late, so we were all sitting around and talking and waiting for his guy to get there.

Andre Johnson speaks with Jim Porter of the Pro Football Hall of Fame after learning he will be one of the Class of 2024 inductees.

"When the knock came, Kennard asked if I could get it? I'm like, sure, I'll grab it."

After Carter, Porter, Wyche, Derosiers and others from the Hall of Fame and NFL Films left Johnson's house, there was no big celebration.

"We just ordered some food, hung out at my house, talked about it, laughed about it and embraced the moment," Johnson said in his typical understated style. "When I played, I never really thought about the Hall of Fame unless I was asked about it later in my career. I just didn't pay much attention to the possibility until it was close to the time it could happen."

In his three years of eligibility, Johnson competed with two other receivers – Reggie Wayne and Torry Holt – who also are deserving of enshrinement. In his two years, Johnson made the selection committee's reduction from 15 to 10 but never the final five until this year.

"When I was getting close to being eligible, that's when I really started to pay attention," Johnson said. "When I was a finalist the first two years and didn't make it, I knew it was out of my control, and there was nothing I could do about it. I told myself if it's meant to happen, it'll happen."

And it happened.

"There was just so much raw emotion," McGuire said. "One reason I'm so emotional about it is I know how much Andre put into the game, how committed he was to his craft and how worthy he is to be in the Hall of Fame. And then you're there for that moment when Cris Carter knocked on his door to tell him the news, and it was just overwhelming. When Andre opened the door, it was like that old E.F. Hutton commercial – everything got so quiet.

"To see Andre get so emotional and knowing what it meant to him – the sheer enjoyment watching him and the purity of the tears – it got to all of us. Later that night, when we were sitting around his house and eating and talking about the day, Andre and I looked at each other like, 'Did this really happen? Is this real?' We just sat there looking at each other. At one point, he looked at me and said something like, 'Do you believe this?'"

McGuire believed it. So did Johnson's mother, daughter and brother. And everyone in the Texans' organization, including the McNair family and his former teammates and coaches, who celebrated his success and now salute him for becoming the first Texan to be enshrined in Canton with the greatest players in history.

"When I'm by myself," Johnson said, "like when I'm driving somewhere, I think about my career and the (election) and I'm like, 'Man, you really did it. You're going to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.' I still can't believe it."

Johnson better believe it because it's true – the Texans are going to have their first player inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and seldom will you find a receiver more deserving of taking his place in NFL history.

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