Bittersweet emotions abound after star’s release

Logan Freeman, Editor

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The end of an era.

Derrick Johnson has truly been an icon of Kansas City sports for the past 13 NFL seasons, and I cannot begin to describe how much I wish I weren’t writing this homage to one of the greatest Chiefs to ever grace the field at Arrowhead Stadium.

“I want to thank the Kansas City Chiefs and the Hunt family for supporting me since 2005,” Johnson said in a post on Instagram. “The love you showed a young kid from Texas really allowed me to have a home away from home. Chiefs Kingdom you will be truly missed. Trust me, I wish I could play for the Chiefs forever but that’s not the reality. However God has been blessing me for a long time in KC, and my trust will remain in the man upstairs.”

Truthfully, the move to release Johnson makes sense, as he is an aging player at 35 years old and has ruptured both his achilles tendons in the last four years. But that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. The Chiefs drafted Johnson number 15 overall in the 2005 NFL draft (the same year Alex Smith went number one overall to the 49ers) after a monstrous senior season at the University of Texas.

That season featured winning the Dick Butkus Award, given to the nation’s top linebacker, and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, given to the nation’s top defensive player. He led the country with nine forced fumbles that same year, recorded 130 tackles and was a unanimous first team All-American in both 2003 and 2004.

While his college career was certainly impressive, most of us here in Kansas City will remember him more for his days with the Chiefs, which were just as impressive.

I’ll always remember the Chiefs vs. the Broncos in week 17 of the 2009 NFL season as one of my favorite games ever. The Chiefs entered the game 3-12 on the season, and the Broncos, at 8-7, needed a win at home to reach the playoffs.

This game was particularly memorable for two reasons: not only did Jamaal Charles rush for 259 yards (a Chiefs’ single game record), but Derrick Johnson picked off the Broncos’ Kyle Orton twice  and returned both of them for touchdowns, tying an NFL record for most interceptions returned for touchdowns in a game.

The icing on the cake, of course, was that by winning the game, the Chiefs had knocked the Broncos out of the playoffs in their own stadium – insult to injury.

Then there was week seven of the 2011 season, where Johnson made a goal line stand basically on his own. The Chiefs were on the road again (cue the Willie Nelson music), this time in Oakland to visit the Raiders, another division rival.

The Raiders had first and goal from the 5-yard line, so they ran a misdirection play to the right. Johnson then slammed through the lead blocker and cut down Michael Bush, the Raiders’ running back, at the two.

Second and goal now, the Raiders again ran to the right, and Johnson again took down the running back, this time knifing through the line and stopping him at the one.

On third and goal, the Raiders ran the ball again, going up the middle, where Bush attempted to jump over the line. He was met by Johnson and a few of his friends, gaining only half a yard on the play.

Finally, it came down to fourth and goal from the half-yard line. The Raiders lined up in wildcat formation, with Bush taking the snap directly. He ran left, where there appeared to be an opening, but instead, Derrick Mother-You-Know-What Johnson took him out at the legs again, cutting him down for no gain and turning the ball over to the Chiefs. That was one of the greatest goal line stands I’ve ever seen, and Johnson did it nearly single-handedly.

Then there was this last season, when Johnson blew up Marshawn Lynch, something I thought I’d never see. And who could forget the playoff game against the Titans, when Johnson absolutely leveled Marcus Mariota (cue Jim Ross, “Good God almighty, that killed him!”), plus the fumble negated by forward progress, even though he was hit from the front and dropped the ball immediately, something else I thought I’d never see.

Johnson leads the Chiefs in all-time tackles, with a staggering 1,262 of them in 182 career games. Add in 27.5 sacks, 23 forced fumbles and 14 interceptions and you’ve got yourself a heck of a career. That’s not to mention the four Pro Bowl selections, one first team All-Pro selection and one second team All-Pro selection. Not too shabby.

I was eight years old the last time Derrick Johnson was anything other than a Chief – this one hurts more than most. As far back as I can remember watching football, Johnson has been leading the Chiefs’ defense with authority on the field and serving the Chiefs’ home city with compassion off the field.

His charity, named Derrick Johnson’s Defend the Dream Foundation, provides low-income and inner-city youth in Kansas City with resources and opportunities to succeed, according to its official website. The organization hopes to have reached 100,000 children by 2019.

Kansas City is losing one of its all-time greats, regardless of position. Replacing him will prove difficult, and, frankly, I’m not sure you truly can replace someone so outstanding. I’m really going to miss you, DJ. We all will.

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