Who is this man?

So because my life is lame and a bit dull, I find myself watching the NFL Network’s replay of the recent Bucs-Packers NFC Championship Game.

At one point, while not staring at the screen, I heard Troy Aikman refer to a catch by “Johnson.”

And, because my brain is warped and filled with cobwebs and goop, I found myself thinking, “Johnson … Johnson … Johnson. Wasn’t there a good Texans wide receiver named Johnson?” So I Googled and, indeed, there he was.

Andre Johnson!

Only Andre Johnson wasn’t merely good. He was great, bordering on Hall of Fame-ish. Over 14 NFL seasons, Johnson caught 1,062 passes for 14,185 yards and 70 touchdowns. He was a seven-time Pro Bowler, a three-time NFL wide receiver of the year and the only player in league history with more than 60 catches over his first eight seasons. He is, by far, the most productive and prolific pass catcher in Texans history.

And you wouldn’t recognize him.

And your friends wouldn’t recognize him.

And I, too, wouldn’t recognize him.

That, to me, is one of the great poisons of post-NFL life. If you’re an NBA player, and you have an Andre Johnson-esque career, you can milk that recognition for years. Same with Major League retirees. Even NHL castoffs (if you’re in Canada). But football players exist in the shadows of a helmet; and the minute they’re replaced and cast aside, a new No. 80 or No. 84 or No 87 steps up—looking nearly identical to the last No. 80 or No. 84 or No. 87. It means you are now starting from scratch. Anonymous. Often unskilled in all areas unrelated to a pig’s skin.

You’re told the fame will always be a tool. That it’ll open doors. But, with rare exception, it’s a stench that follows one from place to place. The questions (“Didn’t you used to …”) never end. The introductions (“Andre used to …”) are cringe-worthy. Andre Johnson last caught an NFL pass five years ago, but unless he leaps from a building or invents a replacement for the drinking straw, his post-career achievements will pale in comparison to what he did as a young man; to what he can never do again.

That’s why, when I visited AndreJohnson’s website, I was both saddened and unsurprised.

Saddened, because the last update was filed in 2017.

Unsurprised because it seemed inevitable.

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