Butch Johnson has played in a backup capacity for nearly all of his seven seasons with the Dallas Cowboys. He knows he is good, and some of his catches, especially his diving 45-yard touchdown grab to push Dallas ahead of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XII, have proved as much to fans and coaches.
Playing behind Tony Hill and Drew Pearson, two of the NFL's finest wide receivers, Johnson has had to make a tough case for himself, but he has not been reluctant about doing so. He has asked for more playing time, more money, more respect. He has even asked to be traded.
But now, better paid but still in a secondary role with the Cowboys, Johnson finds himself out of options. America's Team has proved a very tight corner.
"I used to ask them to trade me but there's no way I can control things now," said Johnson before today's afternoon practice. "It's too late in the year to do anything about it, and it's too late in my career to make any changes in my life style. A few years ago, I was ready to get out of here."
He is a thoughtful man with a quiet voice and a kind manner, yet, as a substitute, he feels that when he speaks publicly there is no position for him to protect, no politics to play.
One day he might venture that Danny White's job will be on the line if Dallas loses three NFC Championship games in a row. The next day he will question Coach Tom Landry's cool manner with the team.
Johnson is just as up front on the field. When he scores a touchdown--he has 12 in the past three years--he indulges himself in some gyrations usually associated with belly dancers.
Johnson calls his act the "California Quake."
Some of the Dallas players, including his fellow receivers, have been more critical of the choreography. Johnson's riposte is characteristic of the way he has kept his distance from his teammates.
"Those things didn't bother me," said Johnson. "When somebody says something bad about you, you have to think about the source. What I'm implying is that it didn't matter to me. I don't care what anybody says about me . . . I'm not in this game for my teammates. I'm in this for my family; I just want them to enjoy it."
Even Landry has his reservations about Johnson's showboat routine following touchdown passes.
"I wouldn't do it if I caught one," said Landry. "But he doesn't rankle me."
"He tolerates my antics," Johnson said of Landry. "The complaining, the dancing I do in the end zone, he allows me to say and do things because I don't get the playing time. He lets me get my attention in other ways."
Landry said that the reason the team has experienced dissent among the wide receivers is because it is an "ego position." Johnson is the most vocal, but then he also is the one not starting.
Pearson has wondered out loud why the ball doesn't come his way more often.
Hill has asked the same question.
And with Tony Dorsett in the backfield and only one ball to play with, a third receiver like Johnson has to take what he can get--usually on third and long.
Pearson said the issue of dissent is irrelevant. Hill was unavailable for comment. Johnson wants to go a quieter route. But the situation might get even more complicated with time.
Sitting on one of the weight machines in the dressing room, a young blond man was talking about Johnson, Pearson and Hill.
"They're all very confident people. They're all vocal. When they talk about wide receivers on the Cowboys they talk about those three players."
The man speaking was Doug Donley. A very talented second-year pro from Ohio State. The Dallas Cowboys' fourth wide receiver.
Running back Ron Springs said he will play against the Redskins Saturday, and tackle John Dutton, who also missed the Green Bay game, said he is likely to see action
Kicker Rafael Septien claims his comments calling Redskins kicker Mark Moseley "lucky" were "taken out of context."
"(Moseley) is a great kicker and he set a tremendous record," said Septien. "What I meant was, he was very fortunate that when he had a good string going and missed one, it was called back on a penalty. But he wasn't lucky to have that string--nobody can do that."