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My, How the Key Flies

Posted by Randy Lange on May 23, 2007 – 5:35 pm

This was another way to make me feel old. WR Keyshawn Johnson retired Wednesday.

It seemed like only a year ago, even though it was a year and a decade ago, that Hurricane Key blew in from Southern California and whipped up the Green & White in more ways than one. It was 1996 and the Richie Kotite Jets, as their reward for going 3-13, had the first pick of the draft. They went with Johnson and the fun began.

As he held out after that draft, there was confusion between his two agents about which media people would be involved in a conference call (or was it a conference call?) with their new star. Some writers, including myself, were left off the invite list, leading to a minor uproar even before he had signed his first NFL deal.

Johnson showed up for training camp, and I remember he was on fairly good behavior — until after his first game as a Jet, the season-opening debacle at Denver, when he complained that he couldn’t do anything if his new team wasn’t going to complete passes to him. A week later, Keyshawn speculated loudly about why he should be starting ahead of a certain No. 80.

Key had a decent rookie season — 63 catches, 844 yards, eight TDs — then filled up his off-season after the Jets’ 1-15 meltdown with his first major commercial venture, "Just Give Me The Damn Ball," which promised to keep the pot boiling until after Al Groh insulted him by likening him to a kid who can’t get an allowance increase from his father and the Jets traded him to Tampa Bay before the 2000 draft.

The most uncomfortable part about the Keyshawn persona was his relationship with Chrebet, which seemed forever on the verge of breaking out into a scene from West Side Story. In large part that was because the proud wideouts maintained their lockers next to each other for all four years of their stay together as Jets.

But while the two were never going to leave practice arm in arm for a couple of Bluepoints at Bogart’s, both admitted a grudging respect developed between them. As a Jets beat writer and a correspondent with Sports Illustrated in 1997, I asked Johnson in the bowels of the Meadowlands after a game about his relationship with Chrebet, and he surprised me with his response.

"When I first came into the league, it was kind of weird to see Wayne playing in the positions where the Jets drafted a bunch of guys and signed guys as free agents,” he said. ”But after you look a year later and you see he’s doing the same things he did a year ago, with a different staff, you’ve got to admire some of those things he does."

Even though Johnson mellowed some over the years, his outspokenness (not to mention his winning smile) led him inexorably to ESPN, which has hired him after his critically acclaimed on-air work during this year’s draft. But we must not remember him as just another talking head. He was one heck of a tough, clutch receiver, and he did his best NFL work in the New York phase of his career. Here are the top nine four-season reception totals by wide receivers in franchise history:

  Jets Wide Receiver Seasons Games Receptions 
  Al Toon 1986-89 54 309 
  Keyshawn Johnson 1996-99 62 305 
  Al Toon 1985-88 58 292 
  Al Toon 1988-91 55 287 
  Wayne Chrebet 1995-98 64 283 
  Al Toon 1987-90 52 281 
  Rob Moore 1991-94 61 262 
  George Sauer 1966-69 56 249 
  Don Maynard 1965-68 55 244 

What’s more, Johnson was a voracious reader, often of stories about him. He would grab a copy of the daily clips package intended for the beatwriters, and during the media’s locker room session, he’d address each reporter by name and critique that day’s critique of him, thumbs up or thumbs down, it didn’t matter.

An unsolicited first name. There aren’t many shorter paths to an ink-stained wretch’s heart, other than a free golfclub or a free meal. I was not one of the Jets writers who remained close with Key after he moved on to Tampa Bay, Dallas and Carolina. Yet in Tokyo for the Jets-Bucs American Bowl game in August 2003, 3½ years after we last talked, he greeted me by name.

I didn’t always love Keyshawn the person, but I respected Keyshawn the player. And I suspect I’ll feel the same about Keyshawn the broadcaster.

Tags: ,
Posted in Randy Lange | 13 Comments »

13 Responses to “My, How the Key Flies”

  1. By JOHNNYJET on May 23, 2007 | Reply


  2. By Joseph Grinwis on May 23, 2007 | Reply

    I too agree, Randy, that I will always respect Keyshawn the player / broadcaster, but the man who earned the nickname “Me-shawn”, is something I will never forgive. I didn’t like Key much since he left the Jets in ’00, but he was one of my favorite all-time Jets while he was here.

  3. By Evil E on May 24, 2007 | Reply

    Keyshawn was nothing more than a stuck up receiver that thought he was more than his talent ever was. Randy was right that he had his best seasons as a Jet, but once he left, his ego blew up and he became that guy nobody wants to play with. As for his broadcasting, I can’t wait to see Key & Irvin go

  4. By Ira on May 24, 2007 | Reply

    You hit it on the head. On the field he always preformed .Jaguar playoff game 9 catches-121yds-1TD-rushing-2 -28 yds -1TD plus a INT to end the game. But looking back the Jets got the better of the deal. They were able to draft Chad because of the Keyshawn trade. Need i say more.

  5. By howard tish on May 24, 2007 | Reply

    Unfortunately I am old enough to remember all of the receivers listed. With the exception of Rob Moore, each was a better receiver than Key was. When the conversation turns to whether Johnson is a HOF candidate, while Keyshawn was no Johnny Lam Jones, he wasn’t Maynard or Toon.

  6. By David on May 24, 2007 | Reply

    I have never been a Keyshawn fan, a little too self centered and a being a legend in his own mind to boot. I give him credit for his ability to go over the middle and willingness to take a hit, but he is at best an above average receiver. I hope that he is a better broadcaster then a receiver!!!!

  7. By Bradley on May 24, 2007 | Reply

    Keyshawn was nothing more than an glorified possession receiver who PR’d himself into #1 overall pick. The Jets’ moribund state of affairs led them to make him their desperate PR/populist choice (i.e. Mike Francesa) despite Marvin Harrison clearly being a much superior all-around player coming out.

  8. By earl on May 24, 2007 | Reply

    iwould take the LC ANDJC OVER KEYSHAWN

  9. By eric on May 25, 2007 | Reply

    Randy have you ever played football? If you did, you sat the bench safe to say. You know even with all key’s hoopla He brought 100% to each play. If you are going to try and him shoot down. Then shoot down to coaches and the quaterback he played with. Odonnell overlooked a wide open Keyshwn alot.

  10. By Bob R. on May 29, 2007 | Reply

    He may have had physical skills, but they were totally offset by his lack of respect for his teammates. It’s no surprise that Mangini had no interest in him. After causing such damage with his mouth, I can’t believe ESPN is paying him to talk. I hope he doesn’t work any Jet games.

  11. By laru on May 31, 2007 | Reply

    I don’t understand your analogy of stats…you can’t compare Don Maynard who palyed with the jets for 10 years to a guy like Key who play so little in comparison. to say NOTHING of the intangibles between ANY of these other WRs and Johnson. these studs brought so much more to the party than Key.

  12. By awats4jets on Jun 13, 2007 | Reply

    I watched the telecast of the NFL draft and Keyshawn did a very commendable job. I don’t necessarily believe that he saw the play of the college candidates he was commenting on since he was playing for Tampa Bay. He sounds great though and I hope he has found his niche and shed his attitude.

  13. By gooseisloose07 on Sep 12, 2007 | Reply

    Jets will beat Miami !!!!!!!!!!!

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