I know people who have beaten cancer.
I hope Jim Johnson is the next person I know who beats cancer.
A family friend and one of my youth football and baseball coaches was diagnosed with stomach cancer about 20 years ago. I used to drive him to University of Pennsylvania Hospital for radiation treatments. The trips back to South Jersey weren't always pleasant. His son, a close friend since the third grade, came in from Chicago and told me he thought this might be the last time he saw his dad alive. That was the grim prognosis from the doctors. His dad is now in his early 70s.
A younger family friend has been fighting cancer the last two years. Nobody told him the fight is supposed to be over now, so he keeps fighting. He went into a coma at the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center last year and came out of it. My friend periodically e-mails me seeking my thoughts on the Eagles. In fact, I got one just the other day. He's a huge fan. It makes me smile every time one arrives in my in box.
Johnson, the Eagles' defensive coordinator, was diagnosed earlier this week with melanoma. I'm not sure he'd even consider me a friend, but he is a man I respect tremendously for his work ethic and honesty. The Eagles parade a lot of people to the podium during the course of a practice week at the NovaCare Complex and few, if any, offer more insightful words than Johnson. When you get the Eagles' defensive coordinator alone for a one-on-one interview, he's as candid as anyone in the organization. What I've learned from Johnson in my six seasons covering the Eagles is that the man loves Philadelphia. Ask the 67-year-old coach what his favorite stop has been on his long tour of duty in coaching and this place is the answer.
So forgive me if I'm cheering from the press box for Jim Johnson to win this battle with cancer. If he does, I'll gladly give him a standing ovation.
Safety Brian Dawkins took part in a press conference at the Tampa Convention Center today as one of three finalists for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award. Afterward, he was asked about Johnson's illness.
"Knowing how much Jim has meant to me to know that he is going through that cancer situation -- I've had that in my family before, so I know the extent of it," Dawkins said. "From everything that I understand, everything is upbeat and we all believe he is going to pull through and he's going to be back out there coaching with us.
"One of the biggest reasons for me staying with the Eagles for so long is Jim," Dawkins said. "What he allowed me to do and ask me to do ... is something I've always been comfortable with. I've never really said that before, but he is one of the reasons I wanted to stay with the Eagles for so long."
Dawkins said he didn't know that Johnson had anything more than back soreness during the Eagles' playoff run.
"His back was hurting," he said. "You could tell his back was hurting. Jim is a very proud guy, so to know he was walking around and using a cart that was a clear sign something was bothering him. Obviously we didn't know it was something to this extent."
Dawkins said he thinks secondary coach Sean McDermott would take a more prominent role in running the defense if Johnson is unable to work for a while. McDermott is probably the defensive coordinator in waiting and was considered for that job in Green Bay earlier this month.
"I would think that Sean would be the guy that stepped up in rank," Dawkins said.
Dawkins said he hopes to talk Johnson in the next day or two. He also talked about Johnson's old-school style of coaching.
"He expects so much from us," Dawkins said. "You really couldn't mike him during the game, because that wouldn't be a very long show. It would be beeps the whole time. That's just him. Because he expects us to get everything right the first time and he pushes us that way. He'll let you have it, then he'll watch the film and find out he might be wrong, then come back and apologize."