Ted Johnson’s 10 NFL seasons and a dark, well-documented aftermath were spent in New England, but he resides here now only in the memories of Patriots fans.
Johnson, 40, moved to his boyhood home of Houston more than a year ago, divorced and looking for a fresh start after spending more than three months in a drug rehabilitation facility to treat him for Adderall and amphetamine addiction. He said he began abusing them to counter the relentless aftereffects of the multiple concussions suffered during his playing days.
The words associated with all that Johnson endured painted a grim picture: depression, anxiety, sensitivity to light, fatigue, irritability. There were and are early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Johnson said he could get out of bed only one day out of three, and required the painkillers to do that much.
His promising second career as a football analyst on various outlets in the Boston market was derailed, with Johnson sometimes unable to show up for assignments.
So it has been cautiously encouraging to see and hear Johnson, always one of the more affable and articulate Patriots during his playing career (1995-2004), during his Boston media appearances over the past several weeks.
Now a weekend cohost on CBS Radio’s affiliate in Houston (KILT, 610 AM) with bigger things brewing, he was an obvious choice for a guest because of his knowledge of the Texans and Patriots, who meet for the second time in 34 days Sunday.
Johnson popped up on The Sports Hub’s “Gresh and Zo’’ show a couple of times, as well as on WEEI’s “Dennis and Callahan’’ show this week, more than a month after an appearance on Comcast SportsNet New England’s “Quick Slants’’ in which it was impossible not to notice how rejuvenated he seemed.
“Man, this has been the busiest week of my life,’’ said Johnson Thursday. “I guess I’ve got kind of a niche because I know these teams so well. So people are telling me to pick a side — ‘Are you a New England guy or a Texan?’ All of that. It’s a blast.
“But, yes, I am doing well, better, and it’s nice that people ask and notice. I cleaned up, first of all. I left Boston, got the help I needed in getting off addictive painkillers. I was disengaged for a long time.
“I now know what my blueprint is. I have to live a diligent, very disciplined life. I eat good. I get my sleep. I exercise constantly. If I need support, I have groups I can go to. I’m hypervigilant as far as keeping myself in line and that type of thing.”
Johnson’s burgeoning sports-radio career recently caught a major break: His Sunday evening program on KILT, cohosted by Josh Innes, was picked up nationally by fledgling CBS Sports Radio, which launched at the beginning of the year.
“It’s been very flattering because I never saw it coming,’’ he said. “I didn’t think I’d enjoy talk radio or as much as I have,’’ said Johnson. “Their vision [at KILT] for me is to be a host, not necessarily just a football analyst.
“I have a lot of work to do, honestly. They want me to lean on the I-played-the-game perspective, and that’s fine, but I want to really know my stuff. The Rockets are relevant, a fun team to watch, and it’s one of the things I’m trying to become well-versed in, especially with the national show.’’
Johnson has been outspoken regarding the dangers of concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease that the Boston University School of Medicine and Sports Legacy Institute has determined can lead to dementia. Johnson has agreed to donate his brain for study when he dies. It was revealed Thursday that NFL legend and former Patriot Junior Seau, who committed suicide in May 2012, was indeed suffering from CTE.
“You know what, this sounds strange, but I’m kind of excited in a way that it’s been confirmed,’’ Johnson said. “The doctors who determined this did not know that it was Junior Seau’s brain, and they confirmed the CTE.
“Anyone who thinks there is an agenda with the ex-players who are speaking out about concussions and the life-altering affects have to look at this and acknowledge that it’s real. It’s a tipping point.
“A guy like Junior Seau, he had an impact on my life. He went to the rival high school, spoke at my high school football banquet, played the same position. I love Junior Seau. And to see what happened to him, to see that if you play football and have these traumatic events to your brain, these terrible things can happen, there’s not even a question anymore.
“Anyone who is in denial about it because they love football or whatever can’t deny it anymore. Football players are bigger than life, and no one wants to hear it, but man, you’re going to have to hear it.’’
Johnson’s first appearance on KILT came in May, when his friend John McClain, a Houston Chronicle sportswriter and frequent contributor to the station, reached out to him after Seau’s death to come on and discuss the effects of concussions.
Program director Gavin Spittle was impressed and asked Johnson to begin filling in on weekends. His prominence has grown from there, and he is enjoying his current standing as the go-to voice for insight on both the Patriots and Texans.
“The Texans are a likable team, likable guys, a solid organization, and I’m living in Houston now and it fits my sensibilities,’’ said Johnson, who said the Texans need at least 150 yards from Arian Foster and a plus-2 turnover differential to win Sunday. “But I still obviously love and enjoy watching the Patriots, and seeing them do well.
“This is a perfect storm for me because I don’t know any two teams any better.”