Keyshawn Gives Up Mouthpiece for Mic

By: John Nadel, Associated Press
By: John Nadel, Associated Press

Keyshawn Johnson has caught the damn ball in the NFL for the last time. Johnson, who played a great game and talked one as well during an 11-year career, retired Wednesday despite several offers to continue playing.

He'll soon be expressing his strong opinions on ESPN.

"I wouldn't trade my career for anyone's," Johnson said at a news conference on the University of Southern California campus, where he starred before the New York Jets made him the first overall selection in the 1996 draft.

"I've done everything I wanted to do in my career," he said. "I just couldn't find one thing that could drive me back to playing football. As I learned from Bill Parcells the circus doesn't stay in town very long."

Johnson has agreed to a multiyear contract, and will appear on several ESPN telecasts, including pre-game shows on Sundays and Monday nights, and do some radio work as well.

"We're still working on all the different platforms they want me to be a part of," he said.

Johnson, who turns 35 in July, was released three weeks ago by the Carolina Panthers. He said at least a half-dozen teams offered him a new job.

"Those guys were terrific, from Lane Kiffin to Bill Belichick to Jeff Fisher," Johnson said, referring to the coaches in Oakland, New England and Tennessee, respectively. "They all wanted me to play football for them. At the end of the day, it just didn't fit into what I wanted to do now."

Jerome Stanley, Johnson's agent, said his client agreed to terms on what he called a substantial deal with ESPN.

"We're very, very pleased," Stanley said, adding that the Titans offered close to $8 million for two years, with most of the money guaranteed.

Fisher said Johnson informed him he was retiring Wednesday morning.

"He let me know that this decision had nothing to do with us and everything to do about him and his desire to move into the broadcasting business and leave his playing days behind," Fisher said. "I've known Keyshawn for a long time and I am happy he is able to walk away on his own terms after a very successful career."

Fisher became friends with Johnson while he played at USC and Johnson was a ball boy.

Johnson became the 16th player in NFL history to reach 800 career receptions and the 26th with 10,000 receiving yards last season, when he caught 70 passes for 815 yards and four touchdowns for the Carolina Panthers.

He finishes with 814 receptions for 10,571 yards and 64 touchdowns in 167 games.

"I wavered time and time again," Johnson said. "I've lived my dream. Now, I'm going to live another dream. I think today is not as emotional as the last two weeks, thinking about it. There were times there were sleepless nights, wondering if this was the right thing to do."

Parcells became Johnson's coach with the Jets in 1997 a year after Johnson caught 63 passes as a rookie for a team that went 1-15. Following that season, he wrote a book: "Just Give Me The Damn Ball," which proved popular with fans if not his teammates.

Johnson eventually earned the nickname "Me-shawn" for that, but his coaches, particularly Parcells, considered him a hard worker and versatile player. Parcells once called Johnson one of the best he'd coached.

But Johnson did have a feud with Jets receiver Wayne Chrebet when they played together and, less than a year after helping Tampa Bay win the 2003 Super Bowl, Johnson's spat with Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden got him suspended for the final six games of the season.

"If people are concentrating on one incident that happened in Tampa a long time ago, I think they're looking at the wrong thing," Johnson said.

He then joined Parcells and the Cowboys, where he had two productive seasons, with 141 catches and 12 touchdowns.

The Panthers signed Johnson last year after he was released by Dallas in a salary cap move so the Cowboys could sign Terrell Owens. While Owens had 85 catches for 1,180 yards and 13 TDs last year as the focal point of the passing game in Dallas, Johnson performed well as the No. 2 receiver behind Steve Smith in Carolina.

Johnson worked the NFL draft last month for ESPN, which was impressed enough to offer him a job. He was released by Carolina three days after the Panthers took former USC star wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett in the second round.

"When Keyshawn decided to retire from football, we jumped at the chance of adding him to our NFL roster, especially after his impressive on-air performance during the NFL draft," ESPN executive vice president Norby Williamson said. "He delivered passionate opinions and candid analysis, attributes that will make him a first-rate analyst in his new career."

Johnson said Carolina's decision to release him was a surprise.

"It never crossed my mind," Johnson said. "It'll happen to a ton of other guys. You have to be prepared for what goes on in the National Football League. Once I was released from Carolina, it speeded up the process."

Johnson said retirement will enable him to spend more time with his 8-year-old son, who supported his decision, and 11-year-old daughter, who wasn't so sure.

"My daughter wasn't extremely excited because she has yet to get Michael Vick's autograph," Johnson said.

On a more serious note, he said: "I need to give something back watch them grow."

He'll get that chance now.

AP Sports Writers Barry Wilner in New York and Teresa M. Walker in Nashville contributed to this story.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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