This article was published in the May 11th issue of Sports Illustrated in 1998 by Peter King. It talks about Brad Johnson's injury-riddled 1997 season.
"Getting a Grip
Vikings quarterback Brad Johnson awoke in his suburban Minneapolis home last Dec. 1, the day of a Monday-night showdown against the Packers, with a jabbing pain in his neck. "It was like a crick in my neck," Johnson said last week, "but it bothered me so much as the day went on that my mom had to drive me to the stadium." Minnesota's medical staff massaged the neck, but the pain continued, and as that night's game progressed, Johnson began losing the strength in his right hand. Twice during the 27-11 loss to Green Bay, he lost his grip on the ball as he went to throw, and in the fourth quarter he was replaced by Randall Cunningham.
The next day an MRI showed that Johnson had a herniated disk near the top of his spine and a bone fragment was pinching the nerves that control his right hand. Johnson was found to have lost 75% of his strength in the hand. That night, he went to bed not sure whether he would play football again. If doctors had to fuse his fifth and sixth vertebrae, his career was probably over. If they only had to clean up the disk and remove the bone fragment, he would probably play again.
"You know what I was thinking, lying there before surgery?" Johnson said last week at a Vikings minicamp. "That life's not fair. But also I was thinking, I'd hate for my career to end without people seeing what I could have done over the long haul. Basically, I was just beginning."
A ninth-round pick from Florida State in 1992, Johnson replaced the injured Warren Moon in Minnesota's lineup midway through the '96 season. He was 5-3 as a starter, and in December of that year, the Vikings rewarded Johnson with a four-year, $15.5 million extension.
Fortunately for Johnson, the surgeons didn't have to fuse his vertebrae. However, his rehab has been agonizingly slow. His right hand is still only 70% as strong as his left. At the minicamp he lobbed passes of 10 or 15 yards to his receivers, but he had no idea when he would be able to throw a fastball. "Doctors tell me the nerves will heal, and I'll regain my strength," Johnson said. "I'm confident I'll be ready for the season, but no one knows how long it'll take. Will it be three weeks or three months? Or longer?"
With Johnson, the Vikings might field the NFL's best offense. A strong line returns intact. First-round pick Randy Moss complements receiving stars Cris Carter and Jake Reed. The backfield features the oft-injured Robert Smith, who ran for a team-record 1,266 yards despite missing two games with a sprained ankle. Johnson is the perfect maestro because he doesn't care to be a star. Nevertheless, along with the 49ers' Steve Young, the Packers' Brett Favre, the Broncos' John Elway, the Patriots' Drew Bledsoe and the Jaguars' Mark Brunell, he's one of only six players rated among the league's top 10 passers in each of the last two years. In schematically similar offenses, Johnson has fewer interceptions and a better completion percentage in the last two seasons than Favre, the three-time league MVP."
Johnson was the starting quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings in 1998 before breaking his leg in Week Two. He would return in Week Ten, only to break his thumb.
The quarterback-heavy 1999 NFL Draft signaled the end of the first Brad Johnson era in Minnesota. Johnson was traded to the Washington Redskins for a first (Daunte Culpepper, 1999), future second (Michael Boireau, 2000), and third (Minnesota didn't have a third round selection in 1999. I can't find out what they did with it.)
The Vikings signed Randal Cunnningham to a 5-year deal. After a 2-4 start, he was benched in favor of Jeff George. George went 8-2 as a starter as the Vikes finished 10-6. The Vikings released Cunningham and lost George to free agency (Washington Redskins) following the 1999 season, and the Daunte Culpepper era began in 2000.
Brad Johnson had his first of two Pro Bowl seasons in 1999. His second came in 2002 after leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a 48-21 victory over the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII.