When Chris Johnson toured the Pro Football Hall of Fame with his Tennessee Titans teammates last month, one exhibit in particular caught his eye.
It was a uniform from Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson from a 2007 game in which he broke the NFL’s single-game rushing record against the San Diego Chargers.
And while feats of great players in the game’s history might have left an impression on Johnson, it was a contemporary in Peterson, whom Johnson greatly admires, that left him wishing he could someday have something of his own in Canton.
“When I went to the Hall of Fame and I saw that Adrian Peterson had some stuff there, that was something that I wanted to accomplish,” Johnson said.
Mission accomplished, as the Hall of Fame requested and Johnson sent them the cleats he used in Sunday’s 34-31 loss to the Houston Texans where he collected 284 all-purpose yards.
What caught the Hall’s attention was the fact that it was the first time in a pro football game that a player had a touchdown run of at least 90 yards, another of at least 50 yards and a pass receiving touchdown of at least 60 yards in the same game. Johnson had TD runs of 57 and 91 as well as a 69-yard touchdown reception from Kerry Collins.
“We are always looking for artifacts that chronicle and commemorate great performers and performances, and Chris’ play on Sunday certain fits into that,” Pro Football Hall of Fame spokesman Joe Horrigan said.
Johnson doesn’t have another trip to Canton planned anytime soon, but says he hopes to get a photo once the shoes are on display.
“I guess a picture or something like that will be better for me. I don’t think I’ll go all the way to Ohio [to see it], but a picture would be nice,” he said.
For the Titans, continuing to find ways to get the football in Johnson’s hands would be nice, too.
“You’ve got to be smart. You just don’t hand it to him and ask him to get up in the line of scrimmage and pick up five yards,” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. “That’s not what he does best. You have to get him on the edge and you have to get the defense running.”
Johnson knows that especially coming off a game like the one Sunday, he will be a marked man this week by the New York Jets.
“I feel like a marked man every game I go into. That’s why I work hard and continue to lift weights during the season, because I’ve got to run hard every time I touch the ball,” Johnson said.
Teams routinely load the box with eight-man fronts to try and stop him.
“Every game, every game. I’ve been facing that since last year,” he said. “We know they’re going to come in with an eight-man front, because they know that’s what we like to do. That’s our bread and butter, so they’re going to come in with an eight-man front.”
Still, the Titans know who is the biggest home run threat in their lineup, as Johnson had 25 touches last week with 16 runs for 197 yards and nine receptions for 87 more.
Mike Heimerdinger says increased touches for Johnson is a product of him better knowing what to do in the offense than a year ago as a rookie.
“Because he’s more familiar with the system, we’ve been able to add more. Some of the things he hadn’t done before, we carried them into the Houston game,” Heimerdinger said.
And just as baseball power hitters are usually at their best when they don’t swing for the fences and just make contact, the Titans want Johnson just to make the right reads and cuts and not try to turn every play into a long one.
“I definitely don’t look for the home run on every play. The more that I play running back, I’ve learned that you can’t look for the home run on every play or you won’t be successful,” Johnson said. “I just look to get three or four yards every time I touch the ball. A good running back averages at least four yards a carry, so I look at it as averaging four yards every time I touch the ball.”
Thus far, thanks to Sunday’s heroics, Johnson is averaging 8.2 yards per carry with 254 yards on 31 rushes.
“When he does things right, he’s good and he creates holes,” Heimerdinger said. “When he runs his path and doesn’t look for the home run, he’s pretty good.”
All Johnson wants to do is to break into the open field. If it’s gets to be a foot race, his 4.24 speed will take over.
“Anytime I break out of it, I know nobody is going to catch me,” Johnson said. “My line blocked great and my receivers blocked down the field, and they if I get into open space I can take it.”
All the way to the Hall of Fame, it turns out.