Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 1/5/12
HOUSTON Most Wednesday afternoons when Andre Johnson walks into the Houston Texans locker room he is wearing a pair of sandals, some shorts and an enormous hooded sweatshirt, and he is dripping. The wide receiver has gotten out of a tub for treatment on his legs, both of which are recovering from hamstring injuries. He takes short steps. He is in no hurry. With the hood of the sweatshirt shrouding his solemn face, he looks like some kind of monk performing some kind of ritual. Which is exactly what he is. He is a football monk. Performing a football ritual. Johnson is a serious man who does not have much to say about himself. He rations his smiles. He sees football as a matter of action, not discussion. He has been in Houston for nine years, most of them bad ones. He admits a lot of people suggested he find someplace else to go, someplace he could win. A player like him could force a trade if that's what it took. Johnson didn't because he says he wanted to be a part of building something in Houston, which is why he is still on the team now, as the Texans play in the franchise's first playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday at Reliant Stadium. But it hasn't been easy on him, and everybody in the organization seems to realize that. "Think about how long he's stuck it out here in Houston," coach Gary Kubiak said. "He's been a rock around here." The Texans have leaned on the rock plenty over the years, but Johnson doesn't lean on anybody. All the times somebody couldn't get him the ball or the defense blew it, all the times he must have gone home furious and frustrated, he kept it in. He'd just throw up the hood or the trademark towel over his head -- and deal with it himself. "There wasn't really anybody I went to talk to about anything," he said. Which is what has made this season, one in which the Texans have appeared playoff bound from week one, strange for Johnson. He is now hearing from all those people he didn't lean on. After the Texans' game in Indianapolis, Colts receiver Reggie Wayne approached Johnson to offer words of encouragement. This meant something to Johnson, because Wayne has been where Johnson is going. But the thing that stuck out wasn't anything Wayne said about the playoffs necessarily. It was that Johnson is just now learning there are a lot of NFL players rooting for his success. "It's kind of weird," he said. "I didn't know I had that many people who really root for me and stuff like that." With Johnson, not much comes in, and not much goes out. He just plays. It has been 122 games, 706 catches and 52 touchdowns of brilliance on the field, and nine years of football monking off it for Johnson. He doesn't dance, he doesn't preen, he doesn't change his name, he isn't nicknamed after a Transformer. Most people in Houston just call him Dre. Like he's one of theirs. "You know, I always said that I wanted to be a part to help this organization get to their first playoff appearance and hopefully win their first Super Bowl," Johnson said. "I didn't think it would take this long, but we're here now." People keep asking Johnson if it has set in he is finally going to the playoffs, and he keeps saying the same thing. He keeps talking about packing up his stuff, and how he doesn't have to do that yet. "Normally in the past years I would have cleaned out my locker two weeks ago," he said. "So I got up this morning and I was like Man, I'm still going to work. I'm not getting ready to get on an airplane and go back to Miami.' It's a great feeling." Packing up the shorts and the sandals and the hoodie and leaving the football facility and the ritual. That's what hurt him. That's what he's so happy he doesn't have to do. He keeps talking about that. Johnson has opened up a little this week. A faint lightness has washed over his demeanor. He's been sprinkled with magical playoff dust, which is to say he's gotten a little liberal with the smiles. And yet this is his first playoff game. He says he is not happy just to be here. He says he is prepared for the extra intensity. But Johnson is a monk, and Reliant Stadium is his monastery. And there is a ritual to perform. "I'm not anxious," Johnson said. "Of course the intensity level will be sky high and the stadium will be rocking, but I'll approach it just like I approach any other game."
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