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Dan Bickley

Cardinals fans can breathe sigh of relief as Johnson passes physical

Running back David Johnson #31 of the Arizona Cardinals runs out to the NFL preseason game against the Oakland Raiders at State Farm Stadium on August 15, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Some athletes slip. Others slide. David Johnson fell long and hard. As if he jumped off the top of Mt. Rushmore without a parachute.

Splat.

Arizona has seen love stories turn into horror films before. Amar’e Stoudemire’s rim-wrecking rage muted by knee surgery; Jason Kidd shipped out after domestic violence charges; Justin Upton having an entire section named after him (Uptown), only to hear boos from fans at Chase Field.

No Valley athlete has ever plummeted like Johnson. And now he is officially gone, officially passed his physical, officially traded to the Texans.

You can breathe a sigh of relief, happy he is off the books, completing one of the most fortuitous trades in Arizona history. You can feel a trace of regret, for the memories shared, the innocence lost, and the way we were. We still have no clarity explaining his precipitous demise in Arizona.

Did he lose the speed and burst that marked his hostile takeover of the NFL? Did he lose motivation after signing a lucrative contract featuring $30 million in guaranteed money? Was he accruing mileage and bruises, tired of getting hit? Did fatherhood and a loving, protective wife make him too happy and soft for the NFL?

Or was Kliff Kingsbury’s system simply too much for his CPU, shorting out a player already prone to mental errors?

The answer will be revealed in the upcoming season. He’s one of many reasons the NFL 2020 season must take place as scheduled. There are so many grudges and so much on the line, starting with Brady vs. Belichick. And if Johnson has truly been misused the past two seasons, there’s a chance he will laugh long, loud and last. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

Either way, Johnson has avoided a terrible fate in the Valley, leaving behind very little animosity. Partly because he was a model citizen, charitable to children, polite to the media and a great ambassador for the organization. He also represents Steve Keim’s greatest magic trick ever, a general manager who turned a fading David Johnson into DeAndre Hopkins.

But mostly, it’s because Johnson hit the NFL like a comet, not considering the state of our jaws when they hit the floor. He scored on the first reception of his career, sprinting 55 yards untouched down the sideline against the Saints for a huge touchdown in Week 1. Google it.

He returned his first kickoff 43 yards. He returned his second for a 108-yard touchdown to start a game in Chicago.

He scored three touchdowns in his first five touches, finding the end zone as a rusher, receiver and returner. The feat was so remarkable the Hall of Fame requested his cleats for their private collection, effectively immortalizing the player after his first month on the job.

Johnson deserved all of it. He came from a dysfunctional, single-parent home. He was a triplet, born alongside two sisters. He had no father present and a mother who brought dinner home from whatever fast food restaurant employed her at the time. Life was hard, and it was all he knew.

He later starred at Northern Iowa, in field of dreams that spawned Kurt Warner. He famously worked a side job in asbestos removal. He was always smiling, always so happy to be playing football for love and money. He was the antithesis of the spoiled, entitled athletic star.

We all miss that guy. But that David Johnson was just too good to be true.

At least on the field. And that’s the best thing you can ever say about him.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.


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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to ArizonaSports.com.
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier