Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Page 2 [Print without images]

Thursday, November 20, 2003
Key to the kingdom

By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist

Pressure will cook a ham.

Keyshawn Johnson
Keyshawn's teammates congratulate him on a rare trip to the end zone.
I'm not saying Keyshawn Johnson is a ham. I'm not saying Jon Gruden is a ham. I'm not saying Dan Patrick is a ham. I'm not saying I'm one, either. But I am saying that we all could have played one on TV. Keyshawn being the best at it, of course, as he would no doubt insist. Keyshawn always insists.

He's more insistent than immortal.

When you're the better part of 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, insistent sometimes works. Keyshawn doesn't miss starts -- not for physical reasons. He has been remarkably injury-free in a league where being concussed is the regular state of affairs, where one unfortunate soul recently suffered a "bruised aorta" beneath his cracked sternum. If one's aorta, the main blood lifeline to the heart, can be bruised, then it stands to reason it can be ruptured. Instant death. In a league where the hitting is this intense, it pays to be 6-4, 230 and insistent.

Having said all that, Keyshawn would be best served to come to grips with what else he is, and is not. A man has to know his limitations.

Keyshawn is a big, tough, jaw-jacking possession receiver on the order of Michael Irvin, the Cadillac Escalade of possession receivers, only Michael Irvin was better -- better with his hands, using them to get the separation from the DBs that his speed and quicks could not gain him.

The keys to Marvin Harrison and young Jerry Rice were far more quickness and guile than speed.

Marvin Harrison
I knew Marvin had arrived -- and it was time for Deion to exit -- back when Prime bit up on a Harrison stop-move fake, then Marvin blew by him like Deion was standing in cement, facing the other way. There was no recovering to be done. Shot or not, you did not beat Deion Sanders by 10 yards. But that's what Harrison and Rice could do to you, and what Irvin and Keyshawn could not. And neither Irvin nor Keyshawn, I don't think, was very happy with this realization of immutable fact. You or I would be understanding. But deep down, Keyshawn, and probably Irvin, too -- I don't know, you'd have to ask him -- remain embittered by the fact that, as professional as they were as wides, they were not the young Jerry Rice, or Marvin Harrison.

By way of illustration, two images: the first came earlier this season when the Bucs played the Indianapolis Colts at home, and we first heard the awful screeching of the hull of the Tampa Bay Titanic being compromised below the waterline by that iceberg. Marvin Harrison was the tip of that iceberg. Gruden had nothing to do with it. Keyshawn was miked for the game, and after saying he "always dominate(d)" against his fellow (and trailing) wides who were members of the draft Class of '96, he scoffed at Marvin catching short balls, implying catching weak balls must have been how the Angel caught 148 last year. Between the lines, Keyshawn was admitting the total had (a.) boggled his mind and (b.) bothered him, nagged, ate away at him.

Some eight seasons ago, in a regular-season game at Texas Stadium, Irvin had likewise proclaimed before the game that he was "glad" Jerry Rice and the 49ers would be in town that week, to watch an NFL record Irvin was setting -- a record so monumental it escapes me, just what it was.

The Niners had dominated the '80s; in retrospect, the Cowboys dominated the '90s. But through each decade, Jerry Rice was the standard of wides, and maybe even of football players. Michael Irvin was yet another Alpha male, like Keyshawn; this can cause waves if you are not also the Alpha at your position and still immature. Irvin yakked on about how glad he was Rice would be there, so he could witness the glory that was "The Playmaker."

God only knows how privately Rice must have scrunched up his face in disbelief and took this insult to his DB teammates. "You see this ...?" Or maybe, to paraphrase General Zod, yet another Alpha male, he said, "Why does he talk to me this way, when he knows I will kill them for it?"

Jon Gruden
Jon Gruden got the final word in his relationship with Keyshawn.
On the first or maybe second play from scrimmage in the game -- I think it was the second, to make sure everybody had settled into their seats at Texas Stadium -- Rice caught a classic slant from Elvis Grbac (no, it wasn't even Montana or Young; it was Elvis), the corner already hopelessly lost behind his hip; he split the safeties, found the slipstream, and went 78 yards to the house. Irvin, was humbled, shut down. The 49ers won that game.

Just as earlier this season, Harrison caught 11 balls for 176 yards and two big second-half touchdowns after being called out by Keyshawn, and Key was shut down, and the Colts won the game.

Mike and Key might have thought we, or Jon Gruden, wouldn't notice.

They don't know us, obviously.

Here are the NFL wides who are better (more of a threat to go house on any given play, according to my rating system) than Keyshawn Johnson. These are the wides who would start for me, over Keyshawn, as of this writing:

Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Terrell Owens, Anquan Boldin, Charles Rogers, Randy Moss, Donte' Stallworth, Amani Toomer, Ike Hilliard, Laveranues Coles, Joey Galloway, Antonio Bryant, Peerless Price, Jerry Porter, Rod Smith, Plaxico Burress, Hines Ward, Chad Johnson, Peter Warrick, Quincy Morgan, Jimmy Smith, Andre Johnson, Derrick Mason, Tyrone Calico, Justin McCareins, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Santana Moss, Eric Moulds, Chris Chambers, and, in all probability, Troy Brown.

Keyshawn Johnson
Keyshawn definitely mastered the art of selling Keyshawn.
This does not count next year being Year 2 of the Dragger, when yet another class of talented wides comes in, on the heels of the Charles Rogers-Andre Johnson-Tyrone Calico-Anquan Boldin-Kelli Washington Etc. phalanx this year. Next year you're talking maybe Larry Fitzgerald of Pitt, Roy Williams of Texas, Mark Clayton of Oklahoma, Rashaun Woods of Oklahoma State, and the mighty K2, Kellen Winslow, the Achilles of Miami and maybe soon the NFL (he can play wide -- in fact, he can play wherever he wants, once he grows up), and those are just the can't-miss guys. There will be others.

Here are the wides who would fight Keyshawn tooth and nail for playing time and primary routes in my system. In my system, like Gruden's, Butch Davis's, Marvin Lewis's, Tony Dungy's, or even yours, if you are not in that first tier of guys, where I'll put up with whatever you do, because you're that good, then you have to be on-program, because there's a whole lot of guys who can give me what you're giving me without the insistent heartburn.

Todd Pinkston, James Thrash, Terry Glenn, Rod Gardner, Muhsin Muhammad, Ricky Proehl (I can kear Key now: "Ricky Proehl?! Ricky Proehl?!") Joe Horn, Keenan McCardell, Joe Jurevicius, Donald Driver, Marty Booker, Koren Robinson, Cedrick Wilson, Corey Bradford, Deion Branch, Josh Reed, Ashley Lelie, Eddie Kenison, Bobby Engram, Johnnie Morton. ... I could probably go on.

I would give Keyshawn the edge on Wayne Chrebet.

Of course, Chrebet is currently out, concussed.

Wayne Chrebet
Don't tell, Key, but he's a possession receiver ... just like his Flashlight Friend in New York.
This is not as dismissive of Keyshawn' abilities as it perhaps sounds.

Keyshawn might start for me at tight end. In the two tight end set.

... come to think of it, Heap and Gonzalez would start there ...

At any rate, you can see where there might be a dip in demand for the Keyshawn Johnson. There's even a Keyshawn sequel in production at SC -- Mike Williams. We can make him better ... faster than before.

(Psst. Don't say faster. Keyshawn will get mad)

I'm sure all this spec will no doubt come as shock and insult to Keyshawn. But that can't stop us from pointing out certain realities of time, progress, the game and the marketplace. That's why we are advising Keyshawn on what should be his final NFL destination, and doing it free to boot.

You've got "Raider" written all over you, Key.

That's where all the great malcontents go to reinvent themselves.

So let's not get too cute or too picky here.

Let's not talk about who doesn't have a quarterback.

Hey, not to put too fine a point on it, Key, but you don't have a team.

So cut the crapola. Let's go to Oakland, to the godforsaken Black Hole. Let us embrace where we belong. Where we can set new records for getting on Gru-Dog's, Whitlock's, Sapp's, the NFL's and the general public's nerves.

Let's do this, Key. And try not to insult Rice and Tim Brown, or kick their walkers out from under them as they stumble their decrepit way out of town.

Remember -- they're Jerry Rice, and Tim Brown, and you're not.

Let that sure knowledge fuel you, Key.

Now. Revel in your time.

What's left of it.

Uncensored Thought Balloons for Week 12

Kevin Johnson, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars: "I'm not saying Keyshawn is right, and I'm not saying Tampa is right. I'm just saying, I understand ..."

Santana Moss
Santana Moss just wants Key to know who's the No. 1 wideout for Gang Green.
Santana Moss, WR, New York Jets: "Well yeah, sure, why not, Keyshawn can come back here, I guess. But he can't be the Man. Because I'm the Man. Wayne says he's an (expletive), but, hey, that's all between him and Wayne. Maybe they can bury the hatchet. Hopefully not in one of their heads ..."

Rodney Peete, QB, Carolina Panthers: "Key's the only SC guy I know who didn't get that 'How To Ingratiate Yourself and Infiltrate the Media' class. That class was legendary. Swannie, AD, Ricky Bell, Juice, Marcus, Haden, Giff, me, Morton ... everybody but Keyshawn. I think what he needs is a nice Hollywood wife. Let's check Variety. ... Halle's available."

Bill Parcells, coach, Dallas Cowboys: "Keyshawn? You're kidding, right?"

Mike Holmgren, coach, Seattle Seahawks: "I got your 'Master and Commander: Far Side of the World' right here. Master this, boobala. That's my role. Media acts like we fell off the end of the earth way out here in Sea-town. How come nobody gives me credit? They were quick enough to light into my keister the last few seasons. Keyshawn? Keyshawn who? Hey, I got enough problems trying to get production out of Koren. What I wanna know is, how come nobody cuts Ray Lewis midseason? Gotta stave off the Rams, Niners. Erickson, that strutz. ... I can take Martz. I can take him. He's my way back in. The whole Craig Stadler thing? Not my thoughts. That Wiley guy made it all up. Unholy creative bastard. I'm way too busy to think about who I look like. Besides, if anybody, I'm more of a more mature Russ Crowe, crossed with a younger, svelter and much taller Wilford Brimley."

Brian Billick, coach, Baltimore Ravens: "If I may ... has everyone else finished? Can I think now? All right, everybody, stand back. Wouldn't want anybody to get hurt from these bolts of thunderous logic, and lightning hurtling out of my head like I'm Zeus -- Zeus wishes. No one understands the tides and eddies of the game as I do ... all hail Billick. ... Keyshawn? Of course, we'll take him. Seen Travis Taylor duck and cover lately? Of course, we'll take Keyshawn. Not at those prices, of course. Hey, Oz! Get over here."

Bill Belichick, coach, New England Patriots: (mumble-mumble-mumble) not my side of the ball (mumble-mumble) but we are banged up (mumble-mumble) so if Keyshawn (mumble-mumble) that damned Dick Tracy!"

Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans: "Keyshawn? What I wanna know is, where do Michael Irvin be gettin' them shirts? Naw, I don't want one. I wanna know in which direction to run away from the guy sellin' em!"

Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy
Come to think of it, Peyton and Tony are perfectly happy with Marvin.
Tony Dungy, coach, Indianapolis Colts: "Well, golly, not to offend Keyshawn, or anybody else, but maybe we can make do with Marvin."

Takeo Spikes, LB, Buffalo Bills: "Why is no one speaking to me? Why are they saying I just chased Keyshawn out into the parking lot -- that's how out of touch I am with playing in a disciplined scheme -- Woof Woof! I'm a dog. I run down football the way a pit bull runs down cars. Why did Warren Sapp just call me Lavar Arrington, 'Can't Get Right'? What's he mean?"

Terrell Owens, WR, San Francisco 49ers: "I am the Answer. But ... what's the question? What's the question? What kind of sick twisted question is that to be asking myself?! How dare even I question anything I say? I think too much. I'm no Keyshawn. No team would let me go that was serious about winning. I buried Jerry Rice. Keyshawn? I'll bury him too. I am so ... zzzz."

Brett Favre, QB, Green Bay Packers: "Yeah, OK, bad guy, jerk, whatever. I'll take him."

Joey Harrington, QB, Detroit Lions: "Me, too."

Randy Moss, WR, Minnesota Vikings: "Hmmmm ... instructive."

Hines Ward, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers: "Keyshawn can't make this team."

Kelly Holcomb, QB, Cleveland Browns: "... oh, I'd take him, but knowing Butch, a catfight would break out within minutes. We'd already got rid off some ballast at wide with the initials KJ. We just scored 44. Leave it alone."

Deuce McAllister, RB, New Orleans Saints: "Wides? Who cares?"

Duce Staley, RB, Philadelphia Eagles: "I'm the real Duce. You can tell by the way I spell mine. Looking at Westbrook and Buckhalter, you can see why I held out. Without me, we don't even have a reliable receiver."

Mike Martz
Mike Martz, coach, St. Louis Rams: "Keyshawn? I don't have mortal enemies among players. Holmgren, Erickson are my enemies. Wonder if anybody noticed what a beautiful sequence I called last week? Or that neat, little gadget down near the goal line. Sweet. Me. Genius. They are saying Kurt told me to leave Bulger in last week. Ha, ha, ha. That's rich. Kurt might have moved his lips like he was saying that. Under his breath, he said, 'Ditch that clown, and in a hurry, Martzie, and let's do this ...' "

Dave McGinnis, coach, Arizona Cardinals: "Which one of these coaches will give me job as special teams coach? I am what I am. I know that now."

Brian Urlacher, LB, Chicago Bears: "We need about five Keyshawns ..."

Jake Plummer, QB, Denver Broncos: "Can I put Keyshawn on layaway?"

Derrick Mason, WR, Tennessee Titans: "I know what Keyshawn's thinking. He's thinking he's a SC guy, coach Fish is a USC guy, and we've got Steve McNair in here. But, nooooo, Key, ain't no action in these parts. Unless you want to talk to Drew Bennett and Justin McCareins and them guys. Calico, I mean, that boy's gettin' ready to be the truth. Me? You got no shot. I'm Stevie's bailout guy, money man. He knows he can count on me. I took Wycheck's job. Wychek's trying to come back now. Now, if Key wants to play tight end ... hey, Welcome Back, Kotter."

Michael Vick, QB, Atlanta Falcons: "That's the last time I listen to another man about how my body feels -- especially another man whose job basically is hanging on whether I play right now and get people all het up, or not."

Al Davis, managing general partner, Oakland Raiders: "Keyshawn ... my son ... welcome ... to Carfax Abbey ... flop ... opposite ... Jerry Porter ..."

Dick Vermeil, coach, Kansas City Chiefs: "We lost. But everybody loses. Did I think we'd go undefeated. You're damned right I thought we would. There's not that much difference between me and Keyshawn Johnson. I like his fire. Would we sign him? Only if we thought the Raiders might first."

Marvin Lewis, coach Cincinnati Bengals: "Pass."

Marcellus Wiley, DE, San Diego Chargers: "5 No-Trump."

Steve Spurrier, coach, Washington Redskins: "Hell, we might as well sign Keyshawn. We've signed everybody else ..."

Norv Turner, offensive coordinator, Miami Dolphins: "Keyshawn? Oh, I think I could plot some routes, some arrow stuff, some deep turn-ins, the occasional double-move, more to keep him happy than any production. I see the way Wannie looks at me. But will he be here to bring in Keyshawn? Will they move me up? If they do, I'll bring Keyshawn in. Maybe that way I can get back those shower shoes he supposedly 'borrowed' from me ..."

Ralph Wiley has written articles for Sports Illustrated, Premiere, GQ, and National Geographic, and many national newspapers. He was one of the original NFL Insiders on NBC. His many books include "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir," "Why Black People Tend To Shout," "By Any Means Necessary: The Trials and Tribulations of the Making of Malcolm X" with Spike Lee, "Dark Witness," "Best Seat in the House" with Spike Lee, "Born to Play" with Eric Davis, and "Growing Up King" with Dexter Scott King and the children of Martin Luther King Jr. He contributes to many ESPN productions, and bats cleanup on a weekly basis for Page 2.