If you’re an athlete in Philadelphia there are several career trajectories you can experience with the fans. You burst onto the scene and you’re loved throughout your entire career, through the ups and downs, the wins the losses – it doesn’t matter. The fans latch on to you as one of their own and God help the poor bastard that DARES to criticize your performance (Brian Dawkins).
Or, you spill onto the scene like dog diarrhea splattering onto a hot sidewalk and fans never forget. No matter what you do, no matter how much better you get, fans always remember you as that warm canine excrement on the sidewalk that ruined everyone’s good time, and they treat you as such for the rest of your career in Philadelphia (Shawn Bradley, Ilya Bryzgalov).
Or you have a combination of the two. You’re loved at first, fans are head over heels enamored with you, but then, for whatever reason, the sheen wears off and you start to hear more and more callers on the sport talk stations criticizing you for your play, your attitude, your public comments, whatever. You could still be playing relatively well, but the fans have turned their back on you and that’s it. So long, don’t let the door hit your loser ass on the way out, we never liked you anyway (Donovan McNabb).
But, has anyone ever been so hated at the beginning of their career, and then miraculously turned around their public image in this city faster than Lane Johnson? No.
But you’re thinking to yourself, “come on man, I love Lane Johnson. Best right tackle in the league, he drives New England fans crazy, he’s the SHIT.” And you are right, my good reader, but what do you remember of him at the start of his career?
In 2013 he wasn’t the outspoken player he is today. He played well, but if we’re being honest, he certainly wasn’t beloved by the fanbase. The fans were probably more relieved than anything that he didn’t seem to be the bust that many thought he may be coming out of the draft. He had success, but unlike someone like Pat Burrell after his rookie year, he wasn’t being heralded by the fans as a franchise savior or one of the next great players in the league.
But the next three seasons? They were a nightmare for Johnson. 2014 he was busted for PEDs and received a four game suspension. In 2015 he stayed clean, but he gave an unfortunate interview and ripped fans for DARING to boo the effort of a vastly under-performing team that ended up being one of the most hated in recent memory. A second PED bust in 2016 led to a 10-game suspension and rumblings from the media wondering if it was time that the Eagles moved on from their starting right tackle.
Just go on Twitter and search “cut Lane Johnson” if you need a reminder of where the fans stood with Lane in 2016. It wasn’t pretty.
And then? Well, 2017 was Lane’s year. He took responsibility for his actions in a great Player’s Tribune article before the season, praised the fans, guaranteed a win in the home-opener against the Redskins, was easily the best right tackle in football for the entire year, and won the motherfucking Super Bowl.
Oh, and he also ushered in one of the greatest gimmicks in city history (the underdog masks), won the entire town free beer from Bud Light, and has continued to needle the New England Patriots organization after the Super Bowl win and doesn’t seem to give a shit about any of the backlash from his comments. The city loves him for it.
Consider the tide turned in his favor.
Has anyone else been more hated and then more beloved in this city faster than Lane Johnson? Several people on twitter suggested either Nelson Agholor or his linemate Jason Kelce, and while both are good suggestions, they don’t quite fit the scenario. Kelce made the Pro-Bowl twice and was never truly HATED by the fans. He never ripped the fanbase, never got busted for PEDs; he only faced questions about possibly diminished skills in 2015 and 2016, putting them to bed with his stellar 2017 and cementing his status among the fans with his all-time great Super Bowl parade speech.
Agholor, on the other hand, was loathed his rookie year for his drops and his mental mistakes, but proved he belonged in the league with a much improved 2017 season. Fans came around on him quick, but is he as popular as Kelce or Johnson, though? No.
Lane changed. The fans changed. Now we’re all just enjoying the ride. Crack open a Bud Light, watch Johnson get booed by the jealous New England fans tonight, and be grateful it all turned around.
Lane Johnson needs to be cut in the future– dude killed this team #fucklanejohnson
— Nick (@Truth856) October 16, 2016
If Lane Johnson is suspended just cut him. Sick and tired of it. He's useless
— Connor Mason (@ross_mason10) September 11, 2016
Lane Johnson has blamed everyone but himself for his pending supension. I'd cut his dumb ass tomorrow. #Eagles
— MC (@mchak510) August 13, 2016