Thinking of Jim Johnson

For those writers and reporters who spend considerable time at the NovaCare Complex during the Eagles season and, most years, at least some portion of the playoffs, Thursday is known as Truth Day.

Thursday is Truth Day because it is when the coordinators sit and answer questions for the media. To be honest, Thursday is only Truth Day because that is when Jim Johnson gives his level assessment of all the transpires in his defensive realm.

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Brad Childress used to help the truth quotient, too, when he was offensive coordinator, but new coordinator Marty Mornhinweg is not quite as forthcoming. To be honest, however, Johnson is enough.

Johnson comes from the great, flat Midwestern plains. He was a star quarterback at Missouri and began his coaching career at Missouri Southern. He takes his impartial, unadorned view of the world from those beginnings and from the nearly 50 years he has spent around the game.

When you have played and coached on both sides of the ball, things look a little more even, and Johnson has always viewed his job as simply trying to tilt the odds a bit in his favor. He has done that by being an aggressive risk-taker, a philosophy belied by his placid exterior.

Johnson is in a new game now. The Eagles released the information today that the 67-year-old coordinator is suffering from a melanoma reoccurrence that is threatening his life, particularly because of a bone tumor in his spine. He has already begun radiation therapy to attack the cancer.

When he had to coach from the press box during the playoffs and hobbled around badly with a cane, he said his back was acting up a little bit. Now we know it was much more than that, but it’s no surprise Johnson didn’t make a big deal out of it. Not his style.

People come and go in sports in this town and elsewhere. Johnson is known by reputation, but perhaps not that many fans would know him on the street without his baseball cap. He doesn’t do personal appearances, doesn’t seek out opportunities to be on radio or television. He stars every Thursday in the latest episode of Truth Day, but that’s about it.

Take it from someone who has listened carefully to Johnson, who has enjoyed a few hallway laughs with him and who has admired his steadfast belief in how the game should be played. This is not just a great coach, but a great man, and now he’s in a hell of a fight.

Think of him when you get a chance and offer up a word of hope. He’s going to fight it aggressively, which is the only way he knows to fight. He’s going to bring the house. But having a few friends thinking of him won’t hurt, either.