Interview with NFL's Norm Johnson Interviewed by Ben Tatar of CriticalBench.com - July 2011
Norm Johnson is the fourth leading points scorer in NFL History. He played twice in the Pro Bowl, and he was a first team all pro. Norm has played for the Seattle Seahawks (1982-1990), Atlanta Falcons (1991-1994), Pittsburgh Steelers (1995-1998), and the Philadelphia Eagles (1999). In this exclusive interview, Critical Bench goes one on one with Mr. Automatic himself, Norm Johnson.
CB: Norm, welcome to Critical Bench. It's great to have you here. You've had a phenomenal NFL career. You played for the Seattle Seahawks from 1982-1990. What was it like playing for the Seattle organization?
NJ: I really enjoyed it in Seattle. It was a young team back then. The town was very behind the players. Seattle had their original owners during their reign and it was just wonderful. Seattle was a great city and a fun place to be.
CB: Tell us a great moment about playing in Seattle.
NJ: One great moment was when I was first here as a rookie. Seattle was never a real winner. They brought Chuck Knox in. Chuck brought in a real sense of winning and knew how to win. We believed in Chuck, and we went as far as the Divisional Championship game in Miami. We went down to Miami and we actually beat them. It was a huge moment for me, the city and the franchise. That sticks in my memory with the early days of Seattle.
Editor note: Norm was so good in Seattle he was rewarded the NFL nickname "Mr. Automatic," for being one of the most consistent field goal kickers ever in the history of the NFL.
CB: Norm, was playing in the NFL different than what you thought it would be? How was it different than playing college and high school football?
NJ: It was different from what I thought it would be. In high school there was not as much as on the line. In college, you're lucky to have your scholarship. But there still isn't as much on the line as when you get to the pros. In the pros the atmosphere changes. It's not rah-rah; it's more like a job. You come to work; it's just that your job happens to be on Sundays when it is everyone else's day off. Your income and ability to take care of your family is related to your playing. The owners, the money, and the business end, make it a whole different ball game. The atmosphere is much more serious at the pro level. You're not guaranteed anything. Your job can end anytime.
CB: Norm, what was it like playing on the field and behind the scenes in Seattle?
NJ: When I was in Seattle, it was fun. I had a little bit of money, but wasn't making that much back then. It was fun. I was a big eyed rookie, and I had to sit through the first strike during the rookie season. I didn't understand what was going on, but I had fun.
CB: Norm, from 1991-1994 you played for the Atlanta Falcons. Tell us about that.
NJ: Playing for the Atlanta Falcons was a very wonderful and interesting time in my career. At the end of my tenure at Seattle, it wasn't as much fun. I was almost thinking of hanging up my cleats. In Atlanta, Jerry Glanville was the coach. I was scared to play for him. I was concerned about him as a coach. After I played for Jerry for two weeks, I told my wife that I loved this guy, and he re-energized me. He respected the veterans, and he really made football fun. I had some of the best years that any kicker ever had when I was in Atlanta. It was a crazy time. When I was in Atlanta, we had Deion Saunders, Evander Holyfield, MC Hammer and so many celebrities would travel with us. We also had all of these superstars singing national anthems. As a team, we were relaxed but we won games, and it was a great combination. Once they got rid of Jerry, it was my last season in Atlanta. It was nothing like the first three years, and it wasn't fun anymore.
CB: Sounds like Atlanta was a blast. Tell us about a special moment at Atlanta.
NJ: In Atlanta, I had my longest streak of consecutive made field goals. I started the season out, and made my first 20 field goals. After I made 20 field consecutive field goals, there was some pressure! I didn't know it was there, but I started on this 20 yard field goal streak. I made a 38 yard field goal against the Niners in the Georgia dome, and then my streak ended at 26. I remember when the streak ended. I was like "wow, what a relief," and then I could play with much more comfort. I ended the season at 93%, but after I missed that, I felt like a great weight was off of my shoulders. I could then go back and play football.
CB: Norm, from 1995 to 1998 you played for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Tell us about that.
NJ: In 1995 I landed in Pittsburgh and Bill Cowher was there. I got to play with players like Kevin Greene, Levon Kirkland, Greg Lloyd, Rod Woodson, and it was a neat time to be there. Pittsburgh is a very crazy football town. They are by far the craziest fans I have been around. They love their team when they're winning. That first year that I played in Pittsburgh we went to the Super Bowl. It was a fabulous season. I set a team record for scoring; I replaced Gary Anderson and Morten Andersen. I went in and set the record for scoring. I set all these all time records on the team's 75th anniversary. I set and got to visit a lot of records when I was in Pittsburgh.
CB: You also played in the 1995 Super Bowl, a dream come true. What was going through your mind when you walked onto the Super Bowl stage in Tempe Arizona? Was it what you expected it to be?
NJ: That's another long story. We had two weeks before the game. We didn't always have the two weeks, but that first week was very interesting and eye opening. During the first week was when I had the most anxiety. The first week was media week. I had to think about how big this game was! I had 14 seasons going into the Super bowl, but there are millions of people who would judge me on one game or on one kick! I was like "wow, this is an awful big stage, big burden, lots of nerves and anxiety." So, I read some Bible verses and talked to some people to get me through the first week. Then during the second week, we stayed away from the media and practiced for the game. The Super Bowl stage was a big stage, a big game and a special place. I and the other athletes were able to focus on the game. During the Super Bowl, we went into game mode without thinking about the big stage. I was glad that my anxiety and butterflies happened the first week before the Super Bowl. During the Super Bowl, we didn't see the pregame entertainment, or half time entertainment or jets flying. During the Super Bowl, we just focused on the game. We can now look back and think of what kind of a game it was. During the game, I was able to focus on game mode and business as usual.
CB: How does it feel to go down as one of the greatest NFL field goal kicking greats of all time?
NJ: I'm pretty proud of what I did in the NFL. Looking back on it, I'm fourth leading scorer of all time. It's an accomplishment I am proud of. The NFL has been around for a long time, and the top scorers came around my rookie class, Gary Anderson and Morten Andersen. When the dust had cleared, I was right up there. Looking back on it, there would be some things I would do differently, but I'm proud of what I did in the NFL and what I accomplished.
CB: Norm, how do you want to be remembered?
NJ: I want to be remembered as a guy who went out there and gave it his all whether it was field goals, tackling on field goals or whatever was asked. I want to be remembered as someone who walked off the game on my own terms. I remember Steve Largent saying "I want to spend time with my children." He walked away when he could still play, and I walked away while I still could play. Like Steve, I was someone who gave it his all and walked away on my own terms.
CB: When you played for Seattle, Atlanta, Pittsburgh and then Philadelphia, did it feel like the same NFL or did each organization make the NFL feel very different?
NJ: Each organization was different. They all had similarities and differences. It felt the most different in Atlanta. In Atlanta it was a much more loose and fun atmosphere! Atlanta was just a party. I think that was one of the reasons why we won so many games while we were there!
CB: Norm, how are you going to remember your NFL journey?
NJ: For the most part with a smile on my face.
CB: What is your advice for a young kid who would one day like to be an NFL field goal kicking superstar?
NJ: Work hard at it. Dream about it. Focus on it, but prepare. Have a fall back plan in place because there are 32 team jobs in the world and many are taken for many many years. The openings to be on teams are few and far between. There were many players who had more talent than players in the NFL, who never had the right opportunity to make the NFL because they weren't in the right place at the right time. It is more than skill, more than talent, more than dedication; it takes a little bit of luck! If you got that talent, you don't want to give up!
CB: What is it like being in the NFL, when you aren't playing games or practicing? What was living the dream like?
NJ: I grew a family and I was doing things with my family as a family. My life wasn't a whole lot different than most people. There were a few special events, and I would get recognized. Life in the NFL wasn't this big glamorous Hollywood lifestyle in any shape or form. Most of the players would tell you the same thing. Then there was Deion Saunders, and it was different for him. I just had an unusual job, kicking field goals.
CB: Are you glad you got to live a life that seemed more normal and less of a Hollywood lifestyle?
NJ: Well, I haven't lived Deion's lifestyle, and I am sure there are advantages to having Deion's life. Since I haven't lived it, I cannot say. My personality is not one that would thrive in that glamorous Hollywood kind of environment. That isn't something I seek or how I was made up. I'm pretty happy with the life I have lived.
CB: Before you kicked field goals, what would go through your mind? Did you get nervous?
NJ: When you do things like that long enough, you get in a mode. It's like muscle memory. It's a like a trance-like state that takes over. I would just kick the field goal and I would be like "whoa, I don't remember what just happened." A lot of times that is just how it happened. That comes from repetition. I flipped a light on, performed, and when you get in that trance-like mode that some people call "the zone", it's very hard to get out of that mode.
CB: Norm, it's a miracle to even make it to the NFL. Now of all the greats who have made it to the NFL, you are one of the highest scoring football players in NFL history. When you lead the NFL in points in 1995, did you celebrate it?
NJ: I remember being disappointed after setting all the records in 1995. I thought I had a great season, and I should have made it to the pro bowl that year. In that respect, I was saying "why didn't I get to the pro bowl." During my career, I didn't celebrate that much, I was pretty humble. I expected it. When I achieved my goals, I was like "good." I would see Martin Gramatica kick a field goal, and he would celebrate like he scored a winning goal in a World Cup. I'm like, "did you not expect it?" I always knew that I could.
Note** Norm led the NFL in field goals made 34 and attempted 41, while also successfully kicking all 39 of his extra point attempts. Norm has also played in 2 Pro Bowls.
CB: Did your busy life with Football keep you from doing other things?
NJ: That is what I didn't like about football, you always had to stay in shape and be doing something. I just wanted to hang with the family. I didn't have too many hobbies in Atlanta. I went fishing. I didn't do many things outside of football that were special. I liked being a family guy.
CB: What is Norm up to these days?
NJ: I've worked with real estate the last ten years. I'm involved in an internet business and green technology. I like helping people earn money from the internet. If anyone is interested they can go to workwithnorm.com
CB: Do you miss playing in the NFL?
NJ: I feel I played a long time and accomplished a bit. I don't wish I was still playing, I enjoy watching it now. I enjoy the fact that I was part of the NFL for a long time. I miss the pay checks, but I don't really miss playing.
CB: Norm, tell us about your family.
NJ: I have two boys. I'm married and I live in the Pacific Northwest. The youngest is going to be a 9th grader. We aren't much different than a lot of families out there. I am just a dad who's had a different past.
CB: What was your leg workout like when you were an NFL All-Star? Did you have any secrets?
NJ: I didn't have a whole lot of secrets. I did more explosive movements, plyometric movements. I believed in martial arts. I did lots of kicking martial arts, and that is the only thing out of the ordinary. I did leg presses and leg curls. I worked on my core. These days, if I was playing, I would be doing some more running and things. It wasn't a whole lot different. Defensive backs are working on their cores. I did martial arts with them. There aren't a whole lot of secrets out there. There are lots of innovative ideas for training and such, but I didn't do anything that special.
CB: Norm, what was it like winning the NFC championship and then going to the Super Bowl? Tell us about what it was like being a part of a Super Bowl experience!
NJ: It was a nail biter until the end of the game. It was a "Hail Mary" pass and when that ball hit the ground, it got tipped, almost caught, and then it hit the ground. It was pretty stressful. When we got the incomplete call, and when we went to the Super Bowl, it was a rush of emotions. We didn't know until that moment, and it was a special moment.
CB: Did it feel better to win the NFC Championship, or did it hurt more to lose the Super Bowl?
NJ: Oh, wow, I can't compare the two. It was pure emotion, the elation of winning and it was very difficult to lose the Super Bowl. We thought we could have very easily won that game. It was two strange plays that sealed the victory of the game. We were pretty dumbfounded. I can't compare the two. It was probably a bigger experience to win the AFC championship and play for the Super Bowl. There were more emotions winning than losing. YUP, losing didn't hurt as much as winning felt good. Final Answer!
CB: What an NFL career you have had. Your legacy will live on forever. We at Critical Bench wish you the best with everything ahead. In closing, is there anything that you would like to say?
NJ: I would be remiss if I didn't thank my dad because he was a huge influence. He was always there with everything I did in sports. Early on I got some instructions from Ben Agajanian, the kicking coach for the Dallas Cowboys. He had a free little kicking camp I would go to. I want to thank Jack Patera, my first coach because he gave me the opportunity to be an NFL field goal kicker and that opportunity lasted 18 years. I want to thank my wife Laurie for being supportive. It isn't easy being the wife of an NFL player. She had to handle the kids and all those things and living in different parts of the country. She was a big part in helping me make it that long.