At 6-foot-3 and north of 225 pounds, Johnson was exactly what you would want in a big receiver. When he did catch touchdowns, he used his body in the end zone like a basketball player. This well-circulated GIF of him bouncing off three Arizona Cardinals shows the sheer overwhelming power of his physicality. That it’s rendered as low-res as a third-division Greek basketball prospect’s highlight tape feels oddly appropriate:


Johnson is unique in that he played two archetypes at once. He simply got the job done, but you’d also be mistaken to assume he wasn’t a freak of nature. He starred at the University of Miami at a time when the program churned out future NFL legends as efficiently as a Ford plant, and no player from that era looked more like a man amongst boys than the towering receiver streaking down the sidelines. In the Canes’ 2001 destruction of Nebraska in the Rose Bowl, Johnson was simply uncoverable, throwing poor Cornhusker corners around like they were action figures.


His ability to be the physically freakish burner and the workmanlike chain-mover at the same time is exactly what made Johnson so great, but that’s probably why it’s so hard to remember him as a true superstar. If you think of Randy Moss, you picture him chasing down a 60-yard pass with three defenders trailing behind him. Think about Marvin Harrison and you see a technician executing a perfect curl route. What do you see when you think of Andre Johnson?

Well, you probably see him punching the shit out of Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan. The weirdest thing about Johnson is the incongruity of his personality with what is inarguably the most memorable moment of his NFL career, when, just three days after Thanksgiving in 2010, Johnson and Finnegan staged a boxing match just outside the left hash. If three men had been sitting at a table with scorecards, they would have awarded Johnson a TKO.

Playing receiver in the NFL is about catharsis. You run around forever, mostly for no reason. So when the ball gets thrown your way you better do something with it. This is why T.O. desecrated the Dallas star, Moss mooned Green Bay, and Smith acted out full movie scenes in the end zone. Andre Johnson’s moment of ultimate catharsis was beating the crap out of Cortland Finnegan. I can’t quite square that with the rest of his career, but I bet it felt pretty damn good.