After two years away, Andre Johnson returned to Houston to sign a one-day contract with Texans so he could officially retire as a member of the team that he suited for most of his 14-year NFL career.
Johnson, who seemed a little overwhelmed by the pomp and circumstance, said he really didn’t think his returning to Houston would be that big of a deal.
“I hope that I pleased you guys with the way I played the game,” Johnson said.
Johnson, the third overall pick in the 2003 draft, thanked owner Bob McNair and his family, Texans fans and his former coaches and teammates, many of whom were at the ceremony, including J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Tom Savage.
“I didn’t think I would be up here crying,” Johnson said with a chuckle. “It’s a feeling you get when you’re up here, knowing that you’re closing a chapter.”
When Johnson looked at his mother in the audience and talked about growing up in Miami, he got choked up and had to compose himself. He thanked her and said, “I didn’t know I was going to cry.”
Johnson went on to say the struggles he faced in his childhood motivated him to succeed on the football field.
“Everything I did on that field was because of you,” Johnson said, wiping away tears. “A lot of people don’t know, but I played the game of football … I played the game very angry,” Johnson said. “And the reason I played that way was just because of the way I grew up. I just never wanted to go back to living that lifestyle again.”
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Johnson, 35, recalled seeing how hard his mom worked and the sacrifices she made for him while he was young. He called parts of his childhood in Miami “a tough time that we experienced as a family” as he grew up without much of a relationship with his dad. He also thanked his uncle Andre, whom he called his father figure.
“Ever since I was a little kid, I had no man figure to go to and you’ve been there with me every step of the way,” Johnson said, referring to his uncle. “I thank you for your advice. I thank you for your love. Even at times when I felt like I had nobody to talk to, I could always call you. So I’m very thankful to you for that. And I love you.”
Johnson played 12 seasons in Houston and is the franchise’s leading receiver with 13,597 yards. He went on to play one season for the Indianapolis Colts in 2015 and a half-season for the Tennessee Titans last year before retiring. He signed a one-year contract with Houston to formally retire as a member of the Texans.
Johnson said his one regret was that he wasn’t able to bring a Super Bowl title to Houston.
“I never played to measure up to anybody,” he said. “I played to win. I played hurt. I did everything I could to help us win. My only regret is that I didn’t help this organization win a championship.”
Johnson challenged the players in the audience to win “a championship for Houston,” telling them he will always be available, and they could call him about anything except “money.”
Johnson finished his career with 1,062 catches for 14,185 yards and 70 touchdowns, and he has the 11th-most receptions and receiving yards in NFL history. He is a strong candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame when eligible in five years, but he said that is not on his mind.
“People have mentioned it to me, but I haven’t thought five years down the road,” Johnson said. “But if it happens, it will be an exciting time.”
General manager Rick Smith said the Texans will honor Johnson at a home game this season, and details are still being worked out.
Johnson said he’s looking forward to being fan now, and wished the Texans the ultimate success.
“I’ve come home, and I’ve retired,” Johnson said. “My career ends here.”