Sunday’s Pro Bowl is a form of validation for Chiefs linebacker
Official recognition as one of the NFL’s best would have to wait.
In order to earn his first-career Pro Bowl invitation, Johnson would need to put together an even better 2011 season. Not an easy task considering his 2010 campaign was far and away his best in six years as a pro.
Of course, Johnson’s 2011 season ended up being a much better year than his already successful 2010 campaign. A career-year, no doubt.
“It’s a great way to be appreciated for what you did on the field during the year,” Johnson said of his 2012 Pro Bowl selection. “I know a lot of guys that should go don’t get to go, but when you get your first chance, like I have this year, it’s a blessing to go to Hawaii.”
There was the single-season franchise record 179 tackles. Johnson became the unquestioned leader of the Chiefs defense. His consistency was unquestioned.
Individually, Johnson’s season was all-world.
But something is still missing. Something obvious. Something much bigger than any all-star invitation.
Despite Johnson’s evolution, the Chiefs still finished with a losing record. He’s never won a playoff game and only one AFC West title in seven tries.
The measure of success outside team circles often correlates directly to team success.
“The Pro Bowl doesn’t make your season,” said Johnson. “It’s just a little award and token for what you did during the season.”
“Our job is to win the AFC West and we feel like we can do that. We were 3-3 in the AFC West this year with a couple of games that we felt we should have won. I think we grew during the season defensively. It started off pretty bad, but we were able to get better.”
But inside and outside of Kansas City, the veteran linebacker still felt the love. It offered assurance from the outside that he had indeed taken his game to another level.
Johnson began receiving endorsements mid-season from opponents and the recognition continued as the season went on.
After rough losses, opponents would tell Johnson to keep his head up. His play was speaking for itself.
After big wins, opponents told him to keep up the good work.
“In the last game a couple of Broncos guys told me that the Pro Bowl was well-deserved and that I had a great season,” Johnson recalled. “Throughout the season, even other guys on the other teams would be saying, ‘Keep it up man, everybody is noticing. You’ve been doing a good job for years and hopefully you will get your due at the Pro Bowl.’
“Everybody is noticing, at least that’s what they were saying.”
And everyone was noticing in Kansas City as well.
Johnson has always been perceived as an in-house leader, but he’d never been a vocal figure inside the Chiefs defensive huddle.
That changed last year.
As Johnson’s play got consistently better, so did his on-field leadership.
“He’s the leader of the defense and he’s just so consistent,” said defensive end
“He’s more vocal and he owns the leadership of our defense more than any other time since I’ve been here. He commands the huddle and he had a tremendous year.”
Johnson’s final statistics were impressive, but it was his leadership that impressed teammates most.
Now officially a “Pro Bowl Player,” Johnson is hoping that the title will help him take leadership to another level in 2012.
“There is definitely more respect and that’s the good thing,” Johnson said. “That’s the biggest accomplishment you can have in football is to have guys on your team and on other teams say, ‘Hey man, we see you. We recognize that you’re doing a good job.’”
With that, Johnson hopes he’ll take a step close to achieving the ultimate goal as well.