John­son’s Hall-of-Fame week started with a made-for-TV mo­ment

Orlando Sentinel - - SPORTS THURSDAY -

COMMENTARY on Seat­tle’s de­fense for the half­time show — how its se­condary was con­fused with cov­er­age dur­ing a Green Bay touch­down — when Baker sud­denly ap­peared on the set.

Baker, at 6-foot-9 and 400 pounds, had staged a se­cret game of his own. He flew across the coun­try to Los An­ge­les af­ter sur­pris­ing Cowher. He de­clined to have a re­quested fan pic­ture taken at his ho­tel. He en­tered the Fox stu­dio through the load­ing dock. Then he told John­son he had been elected in the Hall.

John­son said a few words, but had to stop.

“I couldn’t talk,” he said. “My throat failed me. It clammed up. The whole time he was talk­ing to me, I wasn’t breath­ing I was so ex­cited. Michael [Stra­han] got scared. Howie [Long] was pump­ing his finger, for me to get my in­haler [for asthma].”

Richards, the pro­ducer, was bawl­ing. Aik­man wiped away tears watch­ing from Green Bay. John­son col­lected him­self on TV to say, “This is so spe­cial to me, be­cause when you put in the work we put in, it’s nice to know peo­ple ap­pre­ci­ate it.”

That’s it, right? Con­fir­ma­tion of great­ness gives Hall of Fames their mean­ing. John­son in­her­ited a Dal­las fran­chise of three straight los­ing sea­sons, in­clud­ing a 3-13 year be­fore he ar­rived, and made it a Su­per Bowl dy­nasty. He re-de­fined how speed was used and how to re­build through trades and draft picks.

And his Dol­phins years? Three play­off trips in four years. Two play­off wins. New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots coach Bill Belichick, who was part of the Hall’s panel of vot­ers, ev­i­dently spoke up dur­ing the de­bate over John­son when the Mi­ami years were raised.

Said John­son: “I heard he said, ‘You peo­ple don’t re­al­ize how good that team was de­fen­sively. They led the league one year in de­fense. It was al­ways a bat­tle to play them.’ That took away some of the per­cep­tion of the Mi­ami days.”

His Dol­phins line­backer, Zach Thomas, was one of the hun­dreds who called to con­grat­u­late John­son. Thomas is a Hall fi­nal­ist, and his fate will be re­vealed on Feb. 1.

“Let’s get you in,” John­son said. “We’ll go in to­gether.”

What a night that would be in Can­ton. John­son, though, is still rid­ing the emo­tion of that live TV mo­ment — as is ev­ery­one on the Fox team. While tex­ting wardrobe di­rec­tor Vic­to­ria Trillin, he re­quested a few suits for the up­com­ing Su­per Bowl show.

“Mr. Hall of Famer, you’ve got it,” she texted back. “I’ve worked for Fox for 23 years. Sun­day was the great­est mo­ment of my en­tire time. Ev­ery­body on the set is so ex­cited and happy for you.”

John­son, sit­ting in Tav­ernier and still rid­ing high, said as an­other phone call comes, “When some­thing like this hap­pens, you re­al­ize how many peo­ple were pulling for you.”

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