In Tampa, BTB (Before Tom Brady), the most popular guy in town—even on intermittent visits—was Brad Johnson, the Oconee County based former Florida State quarterback who led his Buccaneer team to victory in Super Bowl 37.
Perhaps, he is better known in many places for his TicTok account, “Big Bad Brad, No. 14.” His standard video opens on the basketball court. He is spinning a basketball on his finger and then arches a shot from the corner, with dead-eye aim, the toss strips the net. Then, grinning expansively, he reaches down for a football and fires to the goal at the other end of the court. That toss strips the net, too. Amazing, simply amazing.
Entering a game in Baton Rouge last fall, where his son Max, plays quarterback for LSU, a gate attendant shouts to him not as the father of the young Tiger quarterback and not as the winning quarterback in the Super Bowl—but “look a heah, it’s the TikTok man.”
When he was growing up in Black Mountain, North Carolina, Johnson was a kid who was enraptured with basketball. He became a big man (6-5, 238 pounds), but the NBA was not in his future. There was more to basketball than shooting the ball. “I couldn’t defend anybody, couldn’t guard anybody and couldn’t jump,” he laughs.
Early on, he, and those around him, realized that he was a thrower. He could throw rocks, a frisbee—anything that was not nailed down. Throwing just came naturally to him, but he became most efficient at throwing a football and a baseball. Every day of his life, he spent time shooting baskets and throwing something or other.
Although he played two seasons of basketball at FSU and still loves the game, he realized his future was in football.
It didn’t come easy, however,
Making the starting lineup was a challenge, but once he made it, after a while, he was sacked by the offensive coordinator, Mark Richt, his future brother-in-law.
He and Richt have something in common in that they enjoyed the many games they played: table tennis, pickup basketball, touch football and shuffleboard. Both were devout competitors, pushing, shoving and knocking one another into the walls. He remembers a game in which brother-in-law Richt lost a point and in a fit of anger kicked a nearby table and breaking a toe.
“We soon were in the Georgia training room with Ron Courson, Mark with a busted toe and me with skinned elbows from being pushed into the walls,” Brad remembers. Fortunately, they don’t pull clubs out of the bag in anger on the golf course.
From Florida State where Johnson won a couple of bowl games for the Seminoles, his odyssey took him to the Minnesota Vikings, London Monarchs, Washington Redskins and then to Tampa Bay where he would win a ring with John Gruden. “I was a late bloomer, but I enjoyed the journey. After Tampa, there were four more years, two with Minnesota and two with Dallas.
“Playing for Gruden was an interesting challenge,” Brad says. He made us believe. We stayed healthy and won the close games which is always important. We were hungry. We could score points and our defense stopped everybody.”
He can still recite the playbook verbiage: “Shift green, left west F short spire, U banana Z overhead.” And, “green right, close14, blast check 97 Seattle, spider 2 banana.” With some coordinators, they install the plays early morning and you don’t see them again till 5:00 in the afternoon,” he says. “You were with Gruden all day long. You agreed upon the plays, you debated the plays, but on Sunday you were on the same page.”
Johnson loved the interaction, he loved training camp and practice. “I was grateful to be playing the game and practice, to me, was fun.” That is why the game remains fun today as he coaches the quarterbacks at Oconee County High School. He loves what he is doing.
Even when he drives through the night 596 miles for LSU games. There is little rest on Saturday during the day before a night game in Baton Rouge. Then it is an all-night drive back home in time for a quarterback meeting on Sunday afternoon. His take on his routine: “It’s fun.”
Back at Black Mountain in the late eighties, given the opportunity, he would have signed up for his journey without hesitation.