Friday, August 08, 2008

Tank Johnson one prince of a Cowboy to the team's king

By Jerry Magee

August 8, 2008

OXNARD – The man who was a pariah to the Chicago Bears has become a prince to the Dallas Cowboys. The transformation of Tank Johnson is complete.

For now. Johnson's conduct with the Bears was so undisciplined on so many levels that it is difficult to accept that he has become the different man the Cowboys contend he is. Believe it, said Jerry Jones, the Dallas club's owner, president and general manager.

“He has turned out to be one of the most outstanding leaders you'll ever see,” said Jones, whose team will play the Chargers tomorrow night at Qualcomm Stadium in the exhibition opener for both teams.
Said Johnson: “That's the beginning and end of it. I'm not a follower at all. I've got to be a leader or nothing, pretty much.”

Jones, it seems, is the NFL's savior of lost souls. In addition to offering a harbor to Johnson last season after he had been suspended for violations of the league's personal conduct policies, the Dallas owner has embraced another player only partially reinstated by the league after being suspended, defensive back Adam “Pacman” Jones.

The timing of Johnson's signing a year ago could not have been more awkward. It came when the league was dealing with New England coach Bill Belichick's improper videotaping. In Johnson, meantime, the Cowboys were dealing with an athlete the Bears had charged had “compromised the credibility of our organization” with his misdeeds, which were many.

When police raided Johnson's suburban Chicago home in December 2006, they discovered six unregistered firearms, a violation of his probation on an earlier gun charge. Two days after the raid, Willie B. Posey, Johnson's bodyguard, was shot and killed while he and Johnson were at a Chicago nightclub.

Why Johnson would believe he needed a bodyguard is a puzzlement. He is 6 feet 3 and weighs 300 pounds.

Johnson did two months in jail after his probation was revoked, and the Bears suspended him for one game. Later, the player was arrested outside another Chicago night spot for having a Ruger 9 mm handgun concealed under the seat of his SUV. According to police reports, Johnson resisted arrest and in the struggle had to be sprayed with Mace.

Again according to police reports, Johnson told an arresting officer, “You ain't the only one with a Glock. If it wasn't for your gun and your badge, I'd kick your ***.”

The Bears released Johnson in June 2007 after Arizona police, suspecting he was driving while impaired, pulled over a car he was driving. “Our goal was to help someone through a difficult period in his life, but the effort needs to come from both sides,” Bears General Manager Jerry Angelo said. “It didn't, and we decided to move on.”

Despite all this, Jones was willing to meet with Johnson.

“The main thing I remember from our conversation is that I would be starting with a clean slate,” Johnson said. “I wouldn't have to look over my shoulder every day. I think that was the most important thing, that I could come out here with a clear conscience and play the game.”

“One of the things that is a plus is if you get a chance to work with somebody (with a troubled history), they know you have extended yourself,” Jones said. “In our particular case, we're sensitive about our image, about our reputation. There is no free lunch when we bring in a player who has had controversy. I always want to make sure that it is reciprocal, that any individual who comes in here knows we have paid a pretty big price to have him.”

In his new personality, Johnson, an engaging fellow with a quick wit, views himself as a role model.

“In my case, most of the problems I've had hit early,” he said. “I know there are going to be some life obstacles, but at the same time I can teach a lot of people because of the things I've been through. Guys like Michael Vick, Pac, those guys, can see me doing the right thing. I believe it shows them that it's possible, that it is a realistic goal.”

To live lawfully, he seemed to be saying.

After he joined the Cowboys in 2007 as a suspended player, Johnson could hang around the team, but he could not practice. He was not made a part of the club's active roster until November. Because he was not fully briefed in the team's defensive schemes, his contributions were minimal. Now Johnson, a noseman, is hunkering down with regularity in Wade Phillips' defensive front. He said his expectation is to have a Pro Bowl season.

“I've had Pro Bowl potential my whole life,” he contended. “For me to have five years in the league and not to have been to Hawaii is not a good thing. That's where my eyes are set.”