After retiring from the Patriots in 2004, Ted Johnson’s life unraveled. The former linebacker struggled with depression, dizziness, fatigue, irritability and memory loss, among other symptoms of head trauma.
Johnson went public with his story in 2007, criticizing the NFL and, in a way, the Patriots, for his plight. Johnson wasn’t a disgruntled player trying to get back at the NFL or Robert Kraft; he was simply trying to make sure that what was happening to him didn’t happen to other players in the future.
Still, Johnson, who won three Super Bowls with the Patriots, took a lot of heat for telling his story.
“I knew that was a big thing I did with the Patriots because I broke Robert Kraft’s heart,” Johnson said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “I did. I broke his heart. We were very, very close, and I think he felt I betrayed him by telling him that story because it brought negative energy and attention to his program. I didn’t mean it to do that. I just wanted guys to get help and I did it for the bigger picture, but that hurt our relationship in a big, big way.”
Almost a decade later, Dr. Bennet Omalu, among others, have validated Johnson with the discovery of CTE and continued research on the long-term health risks associated with head trauma and concussions. Nevertheless, Johnson’s relationship with Kraft isn’t the same.
“It wasn’t the warmest reception,” Johnson said, referring to his interactions with Kraft at a game in which former Patriots were honored. “He was very nice and I thanked him for flying me out and having my son come with me to the game, but it wasn’t like it used to be, and that’s unfortunate. I knew that I probably was taking a big risk telling that story, but I can look myself in the mirror. I know I might not be as welcomed back in New England or within that program, but I know at the end of the day I did the right thing and I can look myself in the mirror.”
Johnson, who played for New England from 1995 to 2004, has been amazed at the run the Patriots have had over the last 15 years. He played for Bill Parcells, Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick – all great coaches. But Belichick was unlike any other.
“It’s incredible,” Johnson said. “The way in which just every single year you can count them in being in the mix – they’re going to be there next year. Bill Belichick does it in a way I’ve never seen it. He’s established this culture. He doesn’t ask about my family, he doesn’t ask about my personal life. He doesn’t care. He doesn’t have an emotional attachment to his players. And usually, a coach has to have at least some. Parcells did, and Pete Carroll did, but (Belichick is) totally detached from that. You wonder how does the guy get guys to play for him when you’re like that. The obvious one is he’s got, to me, the best quarterback ever play the game – and I don’t see him slowing down.”
Brady has said he’d like to play quarterback until he’s 50.
“I think that’s a little bit grandiose, but he can play for another five five or seven years because he can do it with his mind,” said Johnson, 43. “If you keep him clean, he doesn’t need to be running around making plays. He quarterbacks from his mind.”