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Rudi shoots for 1,500

5-21-04, 5:35 p.m. **

After the first the set of coaching sessions finished this week, running back Rudi Johnson talked about his plans for a longer encore this upcoming season with Geoff Hobson of

GH:** One of the great ironies of your situation is the internet rumor of Corey Dillon getting traded to the Cowboys that surfaced in midseason. It was never substantiated. But apparently the Cowboys actually were interested about you a year before that, but the Bengals didn't give you up.

RJ: I didn't know it at the time. I heard about that later. It worked out pretty good. **

GH:** I guess the other irony is that the Cowboys were Corey's favorite team growing up, and yours, too. Why?

RJ: When I was really little, my favorite team was the Vikings. Then it was the Cowboys. (Running back) Emmitt Smith. They were the perfect team. Great quarterback, great running back, great receiver, great offensive line, but I wasn't on the bandwagon. They had good players in key positions. They had the dynasty. **

GH:** You said great back, great receiver, great quarterback. Sound familiar? Do you see similarities?

RJ: Yeah. A lot. That's good. Because that's the way it was in junior college, too. We won back-to-back national championships. We had a good running back, which was me. We had a great quarterback, running back, offensive line, and a defense that made plays. You can win ballgames like that. **

GH:** Carson Palmer talks about former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman as a guy he looked up to and some have compared the two.

RJ: The Triplets. It's all good. Looking forward to it. We just have to go out and prove ourselves. **

GH:** Who is your favorite back?

RJ: Emmitt. Low-built, kind of a short guy, low center of gravity. Hard to tackle, hard to wrap up, not fast, knows how to get in and out of the holes. **

GH:** You met Barry Sanders at the Super Bowl, right?

RJ: I met him on Thursday night and he got into the Hall of Fame that weekend. We have the same agent (Peter Schaffer), and he was walking out when he saw me and stayed and talked for about 15 minutes. He congratulated me on my season and said he saw a few of the games. And I wanted to talk to him about his book because I had just read it. He's a guy who just let his performance speak for him. His thing was making people miss. **

GH:** You seemed to surprise a lot of people by your speed and how often you broke long runs.

RJ: I had some long runs at Auburn, too. I probably surprised some people because I don't consider myself fast at all. **

GH:** What makes you good?

RJ: Quick feet. I'd rather have quick feet than be fast, anyway. That's how you get in and out of the holes. With quick feet. **

GH:** You have mentioned your career at Butler County Community College in Kansas and how you really had to prove yourself.

RJ: I was away from home (Petersburg, Va.) for the first time. I couldn't get to Division I right away because of my grades. I could see it coming. **

GH:** You didn't apply yourself?

RJ: Yeah, I just thought I'd figure out a way to get there. It was hard at first. They had a little rule out in Kansas that only 10 out-of-state guys could be on the team and they had eight coming back. So there were two spots out of about 100 guys. And I was heavy. I did a lot of lifting after my senior year in high school. I got bigger, but I didn't do any running. They were busting me up. I was overweight.

I went to the coach. He's still a good friend now. I told him, "This isn't even me. I don't play like this." Then, as the weeks went on, my weight dropped and I made it. One guy made it on offense, the other guy made it on defense, and the other eight came back.

GH: We were talking about the movie "Rudy," and if you saw it and heard the "Rudy, Rudy," chant first in the movie, or if you heard the chant for the first time when it was for you, and then you saw the movie.

RJ: I've heard that since high school. I think I saw the movie first. I love it, and I don't think I'm the only guy that feeds off it. The whole team, offensive linemen. I've heard it everywhere I've played. It means something is going right. **

GH:** Did you like the movie?

RJ: Yeah, everybody liked it. The underdog thing. He stuck with it. He fulfilled his dream. His dream was to run through the tunnel and play with the big boys. He stuck with it and made it happen against all odds I guess, huh? **

GH:** Do you see yourself as the same kind of underdog?

RJ: When I got to Kansas, I didn't start. I was behind a guy and it was really the same thing that happened here last year. He got hurt in like the sixth or seventh game and I ended up the year with (1,603 yards) and was the MVP of the national championship game. **

GH:** But you didn't have to wait to play at Auburn.

RJ: I had a game plan for my whole sophomore year (at Butler). I had it mapped out. **

GH:** What did you map out?

RJ: I knew I had to make news to get to Division I. First and foremost, I wanted to repeat as national champions. Then I wanted to be the conference Player of the Year, I wanted to gain 2,000 yards, be the MVP of the championship game and get the national junior college player of the year. It all happened. **

GH:** Did you have goals going into Auburn, too?

RJ: I mapped that out, too, in a game plan. Auburn came to scout our quarterback, a guy who transferred from Georgia because Quincy Carter was there. I scored eight touchdowns in the game. Then they came to watch the championship game and I had (373 yards) and seven touchdowns. It came down to Auburn and Colorado **

GH:** Why Auburn?

RJ: The great running backs (of the past), the coaches clicked with me, the SEC is the best conference in the country. They had finished near last in the country in rushing the year before and they told me they wanted to get the running game back to where it had been in previous years. That was a goal (his 1,567 yards were second to Bo Jackson's school record), and I wanted to be the SEC Player of the Year, I said I wanted to go to Atlanta to play in the SEC championship game and I said I wanted to play in a New Year's Day or Eve Bowl and we did all that.

When I left home, I was on a mission. I laid out goals set for every year. **

GH:** Are you still on a mission? What are your goals this year?

RJ: Winning the Super Bowl, of course. Taking each step to that point. Win the division, win all our home games, get hot at the right time of the season. **

GH:** What about your numbers?

RJ: My numbers coming in here are to be a 1,500 (yards) back. 1,500 or better. **

GH:** When you got drafted in 2001, were you discouraged to be going to a team that already had Corey Dillon?

RJ: I already knew about Corey. Out in Kansas, he played for my school's rival (Garden City) and my coach. When I got there, they were saying I was the best back to come through since Corey. I was thinking, "Why couldn't I have gone to another team?" He was going through his contact thing, then he signed (a five-year deal) and I'm thinking, "Man." It was definitely different for me because I wasn't playing. **

GH:** What was the lowest point?

RJ: The losing. **

GH:** 2002 (with just 17 carries in a 2-14 season) had to be tough.

RJ: Pathetic. I've played for a lot of different coaches and always won. I think I know how to win. **

GH:** What kept you going?

RJ: Whenever I got in there, I did my job. Two years in a row I was always leading the NFL in rushing in the preseason, and it wouldn't matter when I went in there. If I played a half, I got 100 yards.

I got a lot out of watching the excitement and enthusiasm of Takeo (Spikes) and Willie (Anderson) even though we were losing. I learned from them, two older Auburn guys. I would watch them play.

There were games I didn't dress and I'd stand on the sidelines and I'd watch the marquee player on the other team. Their so-called best player, To watch how they played. Junior Seau. Eddie George. To see the way the best played. **

GH:** Some people have called you the anti-Dillon because you don't say much of anything or make waves.

RJ: I'll let my performance speak for myself. Me personally, I think what separates me (from other backs) is fundamentals. I think I'm fundamentally sound for real. I'm still doing the stuff my high school coaches told me back in the day. I brought a drill here that we do every day in practice. You go through the ropes a certain way. Planting, cutting, a little burst. I told JA (running backs coach Jim Anderson) about it, and we've been using it since my rookie year. **

GH:** Do you have a goal for your long-term contract? You'd probably like a five-year deal of your own.

RJ: I can't tell you the number. That will take care of itself. **

GH:** Are you prepared to hear the question until you extend the one-year deal?

RJ: It's not going to stop me from what I have to do. **

GH:** Do you think they're playing hardball, or are they in the same position as you? In a little bit of a gamble? Maybe they want to see if you can do it again.

RJ: They probably want to see if I do it again. **

GH:** If you do it again, they'll probably give you the money.

RJ: We'll see. **

GH:** Would you agree it's a gamble on both sides?

RJ: It could be. **

GH:** You don't seem angry or bitter.

RJ: I wasn't. My agent probably was. It will all take care of itself. People are going to get familiar with me. The good thing about it is I'll only be 25 when I'm a free agent and I'll already have four years in. **

GH:** They could put the franchise tag on you next year.

RJ: That would be messed up, but true. I want to know where I'm going to be. I've been all over the place and I'm ready to be comfortable now. My time is coming. I've got a contract to do a job now. I could have not shown up for four months, but I don't operate like that. I like to work. All of my coaches, they'll tell you I like to work. That's when a coach truly gets to know who I am. I'm playing from start to finish, not like last year. **

GH:** Did splitting the carries late last year with Dillon hurt the cause? Can just one guy get into a rhythm?

RJ: No, two great running backs. You can't go wrong either way. It just depends on how the game goes. My strong point is I get stronger as the games goes on. That's the truth. **

GH:** How do you see it working out with Chris Perry? Do you see him taking some carries, or will he be a complementary player as a rookie, say a third-down back? There have been some comparisons to Auburn's James Brooks in the passing game.

RJ: I think it's going to work itself out. That's a great comparison. Last year, the complementary guy with Corey and me was Brandon (Bennett, now in Tampa Bay). He did a great, great, great, great job. Picking up blitzes. Taking guys head on all the time. Getting first downs. Playing special teams. The man would work.

If (Perry is the third-down back), study Brandon. He did a lot of things that most people didn't recognize. But the running backs noticed. He'd go out and get his hands dirty. Draw plays, shuffle passes for critical first downs. I'll miss him. I still talk to Brandon.

I'm the only one left from when I was a rookie. I'm talking fullbacks, too. Corey, Brandon, Curtis (Keaton), Lorenzo (Neal), Nick Luchey, Clif Groce. I guess I've weathered a few storms here. **

GH:** Do you think you weren't a coaching favorite right away because you're a little laid back?

RJ: Maybe so. Maybe. I didn't talk much. I talked a lot in the locker room, that's never been a problem. But I kind of like to let my playing speak for me. That's the way I've always been. **

GH:** You've always been only about football, right?

RJ: I used to go to my older brother's Little League games. I had on a toy helmet and little pads and I would tackle the people watching the game. The spectators. **

GH:** How old were you?

RJ: Probably five. **

GH:** Is that how you became a contact runner?

RJ: Probably so. Everybody was saying, "What's wrong with this dude? Man, we can't wait to see him play". **

GH:** Did anybody tackle you back?

RJ: No, they took it easy on me. But when I started playing Little League, it stood out a little bit. I used to run for free haircuts. Every touchdown I scored, my barber would give me a free haircut. I never had to pay for a haircut. **

GH:** How often would get your hair cut?

RJ: Once, maybe twice a week. Still do. Whenever I'm home, he still gives me a free haircut. **

GH:** We were talking about Rudy having a dream. What is your dream?

RJ: Winning the Super Bowl and being able to display my talents.

When I was about nine or 10, my mother (made a purchase) that came with a free history of the Super Bowl tape. I watched it all the time. The year I was born (1979) the Steelers won it. **

GH:** What do you know about the Bengals in the Super Bowl?

RJ: The first time they played in a dome and got stuffed on the goal line. The other one, they ran the kickoff back and then Montana doing his magic and John Taylor making the play. **

GH:** You must have put yourself in one of those highlights. What is it?

RJ: We win and I play the perfect game.

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