Controlling his weight was a constant struggle. So was the pursuit of a winning record.
In seven seasons under Coach Norv Turner and a return stint under Steve Spurrier in 2002, Johnson was part of just three winning seasons in Washington and one postseason, in 1999, when he, Davis and Brad Johnson earned Pro Bowl honors.
Coached by former Hog Russ Grimm, the Redskins’ line anchored an offense that ranked second in total points and yards that season. It was an eclectic bunch bound by trust. Raymer, a Wisconsin woodsman at heart, rolled up to games at FedEx Field in an RV with a roasted pig strapped to its roof. Jansen, Raymer’s flannel-clad hunting buddy, was an introverted genius at right tackle. Sims was the by-the-book NFL Players Association representative; Heck, a dutiful family man. And Tre Johnson was the tattooed enforcer who attacked every snap as if it were a New York street fight.
“The five of us, we wouldn’t let anything happen to each other, and we wouldn’t let anything happen to our quarterback,” Tre Johnson said. “We were different, but we were cohesive.”
But for the most part, the Redskins of Johnson’s era fell short of their potential. And it’s the losses, more than the wins, that have stayed with him.
“I feel bad because D.C. is a great fan city, and I was lucky to be drafted here,” he said. “We had enough talent to win, but we weren’t disciplined. We had a lot of party boys. We had a lot of dudes with big egos who would buck coaches.”
The physical toll has stayed with him, too.
Johnson can’t sleep more than three hours at a stretch. There’s not a morning he doesn’t wake up in pain, and it takes a full hour to get moving in tolerable discomfort. Though he never had a concussion diagnosed (such diagnoses were uncommon even a decade ago, when players who “got their bell rung” staggered to the sideline for a whiff of smelling salts and gulp of oxygen, then went back in), he can’t tolerate bright lights or fluorescent light of any kind. That’s why he keeps his Landon classrooms dim, lecturing amid the natural light that filters through the windows.
Looking back, Johnson realizes he didn’t have to spill so much of his guts on the field. Grimm told him at the time that he could accomplish all the blocking necessary to hold his man up with smart hand placement. Nineteen surgeries later (seven on his shoulders, seven on his knees, an elbow, hands and Achilles’ tendon), Johnson concedes he was overly aggressive at his own expense.
“I was trying to make war, and it was foolish,” he says. “I could have been a lot better and played longer had I adhered more to the cerebral elements of it. But I wanted to make noise! I wanted to make an impact!”