Back in his NFL days, burly quarterback Brad Johnson was “The Bull.”
Now, he’s all about H-O-R-S-E.
Johnson, who 20 years ago guided the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to their first Super Bowl win, now spends hours a day on his backyard basketball court, or sometimes a local football field, stringing together trick shots that he posts on TikTok as “BigBadBrad14.”
What started as a hobby to pass the time during the pandemic has morphed into something of an obsession for Johnson, who is equally adept at throwing a football and shooting a basketball. He was an all-state high school basketball player in North Carolina, and played hoops for his first two years at Florida State.
“It’s almost like, not therapy, but it’s my goal, my quest,” said Johnson in his friendly Southern drawl. “Can I actually get this thing done?”
Unlike other trick-shot artists who make videos that go viral, Johnson isn’t trying to make a single shot but a string of them. So he might throw a football right-handed to make a full-court shot, but then he’ll match that with his left hand.
Or, in rapid-fire succession, he’ll punt a football, kick a field goal, then throw a pass that knocks his punt out of the air.
Or, he’ll bank in a spinning basketball off the tip of his finger, then turn his back to the basket and make a free throw by bouncing the ball between his legs, then grab a football and hit a full-court swish.
“Sometimes it’s first try, first take,” he said. “Sometimes it takes hours and hours. Sometimes, you’ve got to come back the next day and try it again. And sometimes it just doesn’t happen.”
Often, he’ll leave a ball rolling in the background of the shot to show his roughly 60,000 TikTok followers he’s not relying on trick photography.
It’s all a testament to his relentless persistence.
“As far as the work ethic and determination, the not quitting until it’s over, that’s always been a part of me,” he said. “But as a kid, I never did a trick shot. It was more about skills and drills and for the kill.
“People are kind of getting my personality now. But as a player I was just straight-up ball. Now I’m 53 and can just enjoy life.”
The Johnsons are all about sports. Brad and Nikki raised sons Max and Jake, who both play football at Texas A&M. At one point, Brad coached two youth football teams in the fall and three basketball teams in the winter, and now volunteers as an on-field tutor to local quarterbacks of all skill levels.
He had a distinguished NFL career that spanned from 1994-2008 and included stops at Minnesota, Washington, Tampa Bay and Dallas. He threw Randy Moss his first touchdown pass, and the 100th to both Tim Brown and Cris Carter. He was the first NFL quarterback to throw a touchdown pass to himself — he scored after Carolina batted his throw back at him — and of course made Buccaneers history at the end of the 2002 season with a Super Bowl victory over the Oakland Raiders.
“I just enjoyed playing,” said Johnson, who had a remarkable string of 13 consecutive seasons of a completion rate better than 60%. “I had great coaches, great teammates — a lot of them went on to make the Hall of Fame — and played on great teams. I’m just thankful.”
That comes through in his easygoing demeanor and when he leans into the camera for a smile and a signature fist pump after he makes a shot.
“When you see me celebrate, that’s a real celebration,” he said. “I call it true jubilation. `Damn, this was hard, man. I don’t know if I could ever do it again.’ It’s one of those things.”
It’s usually just Johnson, his phone and a tripod for most of his shots. But his wife and sons occasionally join him. He always wears his Super Bowl cap, the one with “The Bull” stitched on the side.
“It’s like Superman putting on his cape, man,” he said. “I’ve got to have the hat on. Without the hat, it doesn’t happen. It’s really kind of sick.”
That weathered khaki ballcap, he concedes, is nearing retirement.
“It’s exhausted,” he said. “It’s shot. It’s got a lot of sweat and happiness involved in it.”
Johnson has wear and tear, too. He figures he’ll need a double knee replacement sometime in the next 1½ years. But the guy who completed six of his sequences with only 1% remaining on his phone isn’t going to give up easy. He’s having too much fun.
“In the Twitter world, there’s just so much negativity,” he said. “I hope to give people 30 seconds of laughter and entertainment.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.