ST. PAUL, Minn. – If every class needs a class clown, Lane Johnson dressed for the role this week when he donned a long stocking cap and some glitzy sunglasses borrowed from the Jay Ajayi collection and met the media and explain the logic of making fun of Tom Brady.
“I poked the bear a little, but we’re not scared of the bulletin board,” Johnson said. “I don’t get the whole bulletin board thing, anyway. OK, put it by your nightstand. It’s not going to make you play any better. It’s the Super Bowl. I don’t think you have to get fired up.”
Johnson created a little stir when the Patriots were installed as Super Bowl favorites before the last piece of confetti had fallen in Lincoln Financial Field after the Eagles beat the Vikings in the NFC championship.
“I know,” Johnson said. “Hey, Tom Brady. Pretty boy Tom Brady. He’s the best quarterback of all time, so, nothing I’d like to do more than dethrone that guy.”
Take out the “pretty boy” reference and there’s not much there, but in the world of the NFL, where corporate speak and buttoned-down quotes are the norm, Johnson is a fresh breeze on an otherwise windless landscape. The Patriots, who have made a culture out of being dull, a culture created and zealously policed by Bill Belichick, don’t really need a class clown in their castle. For the Eagles, though, who are still trying to cross the moat and break through the gate, their offensive right tackle personifies a team that hopes to upset the accepted order of things.
“I’m just a voice that doesn’t want to hold back, who says what everybody thinks, even if it gets him in a little bit of trouble,” Johnson said. “I’m not going to be correct all the time. I don’t want to be in the fellowship of the miserable. I’m happy to be here. I try not to make too outlandish statements, but I don’t know if it’s possible.”
Even by the standards of east Texas, where being plain-spoken and direct is a virtue, Johnson is a little out there. That makes him a lightning rod of attention on the Eagles, and allows his teammates to be a bit more circumspect. Quarterback Nick Foles can just be himself, which doesn’t include being all that introspective or interesting.
“Nick Foles is just a big, 6-6, goofy bleeping guy from Austin, Texas. That’s who he is to me,” said Johnson, who, as a 16-year-old, was in the stands when Foles was quarterback in the state 5A title game. “He’s a genuine dude. Yeah, he’s our starting quarterback, but you don’t have to worship the ground he walks on.”
If that sounds like another veiled reference to Brady, maybe it is. Or maybe it’s just Johnson being a little goofy himself. Playing offensive line can be a grind, like being part of a levee trying to hold its ground against a raging tide. A little levity in the room never hurts.
“I like to get the guys laughing, get ’em stirred up,” he said.
Johnson lightened things up when he and Chris Long hatched the plan to purchase dog masks to celebrate a potential upset win against Atlanta in the divisional round of the playoffs. With Foles replacing Carson Wentz, the Eagles have been underdogs throughout the postseason, and the Patriots are currently 4 1/2-point favorites in the Super Bowl. Johnson’s mask is in his hotel room here and it will make its way to U.S. Bank Stadium, where he hopes to wear it late on Sunday evening.
“It’s been fun, but it’s not an act,” Johnson said. “We see what people write and what people say about who they think will win. But what’s on paper doesn’t mean who’s going to win. That’s been shown over the last several weeks. I see where people are coming from. We lost our starting quarterback, but that’s disrespect to the other 21 guys playing. It’s not just a one-guy game.”
Of course, on the other side of the field, it seems that way, and if the Patriots were without Brady, New England would not be favored, with Brian Hoyer at quarterback, to win its sixth Super Bowl.
The Eagles are fine with being underdogs with Foles, and Johnson has led the way in not just celebrating their status, but having fun with it. He even pokes the great blue bear and lives to laugh about it.
“I’m not scared of Tom Brady,” Johnson said. “It’s not like he’s going to be rushing in off the edge at me. But seeing the Patriots in the Super Bowl is like watching the same episode of Friends every night. You get tired of it.”
The Eagles are the not the same old show in town this season and they bring their own entertainment as a bonus. He’s not a pretty boy, not in those sunglasses, but Lane Johnson is pretty good and the cast around him hasn’t been bad, either.