Larry Johnson, the Skins and Bronko Nagurski
Larry Johnson was born in late 1979 in Charles County. That means he was in the perfect location and of the perfect age to be indelibly marked by the Redskins' glory years. The first Super Bowl he remembers was XXII, with Doug Williams, and the players he grew up idolizing were some of the same ones you grew up idolizing, if you're one of my typical readers:
"Doug Williams...Art Monk, The Posse and all that, that's what we grew up around," Johnson told me over the weekend. "My dad used to take me to Redskins camp when I was little. That was always in our house....Being that I was from Maryland, that was what was always on the TV."
The thing that possibly makes Johnson different from the typical 30-something kid from Waldorf or Pomfret is that his football knowledge doesn't start in the mid-'80s. His dad, once a prominent high school coach and now a Penn State assistant, insisted that young Larry watch the classic NFL Films tapes, and so he grew up with Steve Sabol as much as he did John Madden.
"Jim Brown, Earl Campbell, those are type of guys that I was exposed to at a very young age," he said. "I was an Emmitt [Smith] fan, but at that time I was growing up on Emmitt. But my dad made me watch olllllddddd school guys, OLD NFL Films, like Bronko Nagurski, Red Grange, Dickie Post and all that. I used to sit there and watch them things for days on end. People don't understand that Steve Sabol [goes] way way back with the NFL Films, so that's what I was exposed to."
Someone suggested that maybe a typical eight-year old kid might not be into the NFL of the 1960s, or the 1930s.
"Nah, that's what I love," Johnson said. "I love the old-school days. Like [how] Dick Night Train [Lane] used to tackle people. That's when they didn't have these kiddie rules they've got today, where they're trying to protect anybody. I liked when they used to try to clothesline everybody and everybody got on fights on the field and stuff like that. I kind of like the physical part of that game."
And then Johnson went ahead and turned into a high school history teacher for us.
"You can't know what's going on in the future if you don't know the past," he said. "Football's a lot more than what you see now. He made me watch the past stuff to really appreciate the history of football."
By the way, even though he lived in Maryland and his dad was a Redskins fan, Johnson's mom used to support the Cowboys. That's the way these things seem to go within NFC East families. Willie Parker's dad, for example, was a big Cowboys fan, which is why young Willie was brainwashed into supporting the star, but at the same time his sister rebelled and was a Redskins fan. I asked Parker why his dad liked the Cowboys.
"I don't know; you know, they're the nation's team," he said. "I was too young to be a true fan. I was kind of a bandwagon rider; my dad liked them so I'm gonna grow up liking them. I didn't really know too much about the team. No Cowboys jerseys, no posters on the wall....Don't try to make all these Redskins fans hate me."
Well, okay. Parker said his dad "still got love" for the Cowboys, but he mostly supports whatever team Willie's on, so he's calling himself a Redskins fan. But he does have some autographed Emmitt Smith memorabilia that he might have to give away to prove his allegiance.
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