Loyalty is not exactly rampant in professional sports. But if there’s one word that describes former Carolina Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson, it’s loyalty.
Johnson retired after 11 seasons in the NFL, all with the Panthers. Carolina selected him in the third round of the 2007 NFL Draft, and the Hawkinsville, Georgia, native always stuck by the team that gave him a chance to live out his dream of being a professional football player.
The Panthers released Johnson in February after his numbers dwindled over the past few seasons, but the 32-year-old refused to play for another franchise. Here’s how he told Panthers.com he wants to be remembered:
“Loyal. Hard-working. A Panther all the way through. The Panthers were all I knew and all I ever wanted to know.”
That says it all right there. As a matter of fact, when Johnson did have the opportunity to leave prior to the 2017 season — which would ultimately prove to be his last — he took a pay cut to remain with the Panthers.
And while there’s nothing wrong with a professional athlete trying to get the best deal available, it’s certainly refreshing when a player of Johnson’s caliber chooses loyalty over cash. He was never an attention-seeker either, instead choosing let his on-field production speak for itself.
Others could learn a lot from the way Johnson went about his business:
“My mindset was just to work. I knew the work would get me where I wanted to be.”
Johnson’s work definitely paid off, as his 67.5 career sacks and 20 forced fumbles rank second in team history behind Julius Peppers. But unlike Peppers — who is undoubtedly a future Hall of Famer — Johnson always remained loyal to the team that drafted him.
Unfortunately, back issues plagued Johnson in recent years and his numbers dipped as a result. In 12 games last year, he finished with just 16 tackles and failed to record a sack for the first time since his rookie season, when he appeared in just three games.
Still, Johnson played in more regular season games (143) than any defensive lineman in team history. In addition, he became the first Panther to notch at least nine sacks in four straight seasons (2010-13).
During Johnson’s tenure, the Panthers have consistently had one of the top run defenses in the NFL. And he has always been right at the forefront of their success.
Come playoff time, Johnson seemed to raise his game to another level. His five career postseason sacks rank first in team history and some of his best individual performances have come in the playoffs.
Being a Georgia native and a former University of Georgia standout, Johnson particularly enjoyed playing against the Atlanta Falcons. He had this to say about playing against his hometown team:
“The Atlanta game was the only time my people back home that don’t have cable can see me play. It meant so much to me. I thrived playing against them more than anyone else.”
That certainly held true in 2012, when he recorded a career-high 3.5 sacks inside the Georgia Dome. The Panthers lost the game on a last-second field goal, but no one performed at a higher level than Johnson on that day.
Whether he was completely healthy or dealing with injuries, Johnson always gave 100 percent. That relentless attitude is what allowed him to post the numbers that he did. It’s also one reason why the Panthers have been so dominant on the defensive side of the ball.
The defense seems to be in good hands with guys like Luke Kuechly and Kawann Short still in the mix. But Johnson’s career is undoubtedly one of the greatest in Panthers history. He deserves way more credit than he has gotten for much of his tenure in Carolina, with the only blemish being his failed drug test late last season.
Johnson wants to go down as a Panther all the way through, and that’s exactly what will happen. He gave the team his all for over a decade and did it with a great deal of humility. He just wanted to help the team be better, and boy did he ever.
Plain and simple, Charles Johnson is a Panthers legend.