Even As A Champ, Keyshawn Fights Image
By KATHERINE SMITH
Published: Jul 19, 2003
CELEBRATION - Keyshawn Johnson grew up in South Central Los Angeles. He played professional football in New York. And he wrote a book called ``Just Throw Me The Damn Ball.''
All of that, the wide receiver said Friday, adds up to a preconceived image he has fought throughout his Bucs career.
``I think it's a picture that's painted,'' Johnson said. ``It probably started from [my] upbringing.''
Johnson isn't afraid to speak his mind, as evident in a nationally televised sideline spat with Bucs coach Jon Gruden during last season's Monday night game against St. Louis. It wasn't the only time the two argued during a game.
``There was an incident at the Super Bowl, but the cameras didn't catch it,'' Johnson said.
The relationship was strained from the start. Johnson missed most of last year's off-season workouts. This year, Johnson attended every mandatory minicamp and a majority of the off-season practices, which has helped his relationship with Gruden.
``I think he sees commitment,'' Johnson said. ``I think it's easier when you know someone the second time around.''
Misconceptions about his motivation, Johnson said, weren't limited to Gruden.
``I anticipate that anyway with me, no matter [who] the coach is,'' Johnson said. ``Whether it was my former coach, [Bill] Parcells or my college coach or whoever.''
Bucs cornerback Brian Kelly, who played with Johnson at USC, said no one should question Johnson's commitment to winning.
``He believes in his abilities, and he does want to win, and he plays a position where you have to focus on the individual,'' Kelly said. ``He is a team player. He feels he can help the team win. He doesn't feel like he can help himself win.''
Last year, Johnson became the first Bucs receiver to record consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and earned his third Pro Bowl selection.
Entering his eighth NFL season, Johnson said he remains on track to retire after 10 years in the league. That's the plan he had when the New York Jets selected him No. 1 overall in the 1996 NFL draft.
He has goals to meet in the next couple of seasons, including adding another Super Bowl ring and solidifying a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In some ways, Johnson said, he's the same kid who grew up in one of the country's roughest neighborhoods, with the same dreams.
``I don't think I've changed one bit,'' he said. ``I think you could go back to when I was in junior high. They'll say I am still the same person: `Hasn't changed a bit.' ''