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Fast and Furious with Finesse

Keyshawn Johnson, once one of the NFL's premier wide receivers, has moved on with a flourish to his next life as a broadcaster and businessman.
Marshall Fine
From the Print Edition:
Arnon Milchan, September/October 2008

(continued from page 2)

But when Parcells took over as Jets head coach in 1997, Johnson found exactly what he was looking for: "I didn't need anything from a coach except a winning attitude and he gave it," Johnson says of Parcells, who was 29-19 during his three years with the Jets.

They seem like an odd couple: the publicly prickly Parcells and the free-spirited Johnson. But Johnson says, "Coach Parcells gets along with guys who can play football. And I'm a guy who took care of business for every coach I ever had. He was the authority figure and I listened."

Parcells, now executive vice president of football operations for the Miami Dolphins, says, "Keyshawn was willing to do all the jobs a lot of receivers are not willing to do. He'd block anybody you asked him to, including guys who were a lot bigger than he was. He always brought a good attitude—and he was a great ball-snatcher."

Even before he decided to retire, Johnson was a bright blip on ESPN's radar. ESPN asked him to be a commentator during its coverage of the 2007 NFL draft, only the second active player to garner an invitation. Not long afterward, Johnson announced his retirement from the NFL to join ESPN.

"His work ethic was great—he bowled us over," says Seth Markman, senior coordinating producer for ESPN's NFL shows. "He was willing to talk honestly about the issues and give opinions of controversies that were swirling around. Without having any TV experience, he looked like a natural. So when he expressed an interest in hanging them up, we saw his future with us."

During the 2007—08 NFL season, his first on ESPN, Johnson hit his stride early on, adopting a schedule that provides time to do the research he needs to have his facts straight by airtime.

But making it look easy has its drawbacks: "People think I just get on TV and talk, but that's not the case—it's a real job," Johnson says. "I start getting ready for the upcoming weekend in the middle of the week. I watch game films, but I don't study them. I can look at a guy and tell if he can play, because I played the game."

"What we're all looking for is the honesty that focuses on what the facts are," Tom Jackson says. "It's rare that someone is able to be himself. He's got the whole package."

Steve Tisch, chairman and executive vice president of the New York Giants, who has known Johnson for a number of years, says, "As a broadcaster, Keyshawn is charismatic, intelligent, articulate. He's got that star quality—the smile, the eyes, the brightness. The camera loves him."

Still, there were adjustments: "In the beginning, I had the director and producer in my earpiece, because they weren't expecting me to know what to do," Johnson says. "Once they learned that I had to be me, they let me run with the ball. Everyone wants to direct or produce you, but if they let your natural talent take over, you look good."


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