Brad Johnson and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers called his injury in 2002 a severe lower back bruise. Until this week, Johnson had never publicly revealed that he had two transverse process fractures that kept him out of two games.
“After 2 ½ weeks, I could have played,” Johnson said in a phone interview, “but we waited an extra week, just because we had a bye. So after 17 days, I felt like I could have gotten ready to play. Maybe some guys get back quicker.”
Johnson texted his former Cowboys teammate, Tony Romo, soon after he saw Romo get kneed in the back by Redskins linebacker Keenan Robinson in an Oct. 27 game.
“I knew [Romo] was in pain,” Johnson said in a phone interview. “There’s nothing you can do about it. It takes time, and taking a pain shot is not going to help. I know exactly how he feels.”
Johnson, who is retired and living in Athens, Ga., was injured on a scramble against the Detroit Lions when 320-pound defensive tackle Shaun Rogers fell on top of him.
“We didn’t want to let anything out,” Johnson said. “…But once I got home, I couldn’t move. I was done.”
He missed the final two games of the 2002 regular season. After a first-round playoff bye, Johnson returned for the playoffs, and the Bucs won Super Bowl XXXVII.
“I couldn’t tie my shoes,” Johnson said. “I couldn’t cough. I couldn’t do anything. I did acupuncture. I did treatment. I drank Crown and Coke. I mean, you do it all, man. Pain is pain, and it wasn’t a matter of tolerating it. I couldn’t tie my shoes, let alone try to take a snap.”
Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty cracked two transverse processes in his back Aug. 31 and missed one game before returning for a Sept. 12 game.
“Whatever doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger,” Petty said last week when asked about Romo. “He’ll be fine, just like I am. As far as a back injury to have, this is the one to have. It kind of heals itself.”
Daunte Culpepper and Gus Frerotte both played with the injury during their NFL careers. Culpepper missed two games during the 2003 season, and Frerotte lost his starting job in 2008 after he was injured.
“It isn’t a matter of: Can you tough it out?” Johnson said. “It’s just: Can you walk with it? Can you take a snap with it? Can you move with it? Can you throw with it?
“It just takes time. It’s not like a sprained ankle. It’s not like a broken thumb. It’s none of that. It’s just in there. It’s a pain-tolerance issue. Are you functional to move? I didn’t have it.”
Romo traded texts with Johnson, and he discussed the injury with play-caller Scott Linehan, who was the offensive coordinator with the Vikings in 2003 with Culpepper.
“I think you find that everyone who’s had it knows it’s uncomfortable,” said Romo, who had Johnson as his backup in Dallas in 2007-08. “You just try and get better and you go play.”