How one word convinced the AAF's Charles Johnson to return to pro football

Photo courtesy of USA Today
Clark Judge

(EDITOR’S NOTE: To access the Charles Johnson interview, fast-forward to 1:04:00 of the attachment above)

Charles Johnson is happy. In fact, he’s happier than he’s ever been in his pro career. And it’s not because he’s a league-leading receiver.

Nope it’s because he’s found something in the new Alliance of American Football League, a spring start-up in its first season, that he didn’t in multiple stops in the NFL.

And that’s fun.

That’s not my word. It’s his. Because when he spoke to the Talk of Fame Network on its latest broadcast, Johnson kept mentioning it – saying it was what convinced him to explore the new league. In fact, after failing to make the New York Jets last summer, he’d sworn off football, saying he wouldn’t come back.

But then something happened. Friends of his in the AAF implored him to check out the new league because of what it delivered … and, well, let Johnson explain.

“The guy on the Arizona team wrote me and said, ‘Come play, come play,’ “ he said. “Then one day he sent me a really long text message, and there was one word that stuck out – and that was the word ‘fun.’ I wrote him back and said, ‘You don’t have to say any more.’ “

Now look who’s having a ball.

Johnson has a league-best 29 catches for 492 yards – including an AAF-record 192 in one game – playing for a league-leading Orlando Apollos team that hasn’t lost (5-0). And he’s playing so well that Apollos’ GM Tim Ruskell said, “I don’t know why he’s playing in our league.”

Well, I do now.

“I’m not really too focused about where it’s going to lead me; where it’s going to take me,” said Johnson. “I’m just out here trying to enjoy this game, have fun with the game and do it because I love it. And not too much because of what it’s going to do for me. I’m having fun with it all.

“I got to come out here and really just play for the love of the game. And I kind feel I’m doing it this way; doing it with a smile and having fun with it all. It’s really helped me open up and be the player I really am.”

A 2013 seventh-round draft pick of Green Bay, Johnson didn’t make an impact until a year later … and that was with Minnesota, not the Packers, when he caught 31 passes for 476 yards and two TDs in six starts. But injuries, politics and dwindling production soured him on football after he failed to make the Jets last summer.

Then the AAF came along, Johnson changed his mind and now he's having fun again. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

“I used to let things get to me a little bit in the NFL,” he said. “When things weren’t right, when I figured I’m better than one of these guys in front of me, I would let it get to me basically. Now I’m at a point where I’m just happy. I’ve got a bunch of happiness inside of me, and it can’t be taken away. I don’t take a moment for granted anymore.”

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