Tim Johnson, Steelers Defensive Lineman, 1987-1989
First, can you let readers know about your post-NFL career as a pastor. Tell us how you got started and what caused you to follow that direction?
During my decade in the NFL, my love for God and people compelled me to serve in his local church as an usher, children’s teacher, life group leader and eventually as an elder. As an ordained minister in 2000, my family and I moved to Nashville, TN to be the Senior Associate Pastor of Bethel Word Outreach Center, a large multicultural, multi-congregational church. In 2005, I became the Senior Pastor. A year later, my wife Le’Chelle and I were inspired to launch Orlando World Outreach Center in Orlando, Florida.
How big of a part did your faith play in your playing career and on the Steelers teams you played for- and how so?
It was the anchor for everything that I did because I realized all the gifts and talents that I had were a gift from God and how I used them would be my gift back to God. My reminder became a Bible verse that I referred to regularly in my ability to honor Jesus with my talents. That Bible verse is Colossians 3:23-24.
You won a national championship at Penn State and a Super Bowl with the Redskins. Is there one that stands out/means more to you? And do you think you fully appreciated the rarity of both accomplishments at the time?
I’ve been asked this question many times over the years and it’s very difficult to answer because each were remarkable in their own right and beyond anything I could have dreamed. I don’t think, at the time, I appreciated what having both experiences meant like I do now. It’s very humbling to look back over my life and see the privilege that I had with being a NCAA National Champion and an NFL Super Bowl Champion.
You played somewhat locally – at Penn State – before being drafted by the Steelers in 1987. What were your thoughts on being drafted by the Steelers and were you surprised?
Draft day is a very nerve racking experience because after all the hard work the decision about your career and future becomes uncertain on that day. To avoid being overwhelmed by anxiety and uncertainty I actually went to a prayer meeting at my local church as a way of demonstrating my trust in Christ to lead me where he wanted me. When I finally got the call that I was drafted by the Steelers, I was excited to have an opportunity to play for another championship organization, even though we didn’t win a Super Bowl during my time there.
As a sixth round pick, there are no guarantees you make the team – especially when the team had a deep DL corps with Steed, Harrison, Roye, and Gibson there as well. What did you do to catch the coaches’ eyes and how hard was it to adjust to the 3-4 defense?
There is a saying that you can’t hide hard work and I actually believed that Penn State prepared me for what hard work meant. I went in to camp thinking that if I out worked everyone, one way or another, there would be a place for me. This idea was confirmed in our defensive meeting when Coach Joe Green said to all of the guys who started out in camp; if we did everything he wanted us to do he would find a way to keep us. He would not cut us; we would cut ourselves based on what we did. That was all I needed to hear.
Who on the Steelers team helped mentor you and help you adjust most to the NFL and the team culture? And how did they do so?
Coach Joe Green and Donnie Shell, were a Godsend to me as mentors by helping me to mentally adjust to the level I needed to be in handling my opportunity as a football player but also understanding the business of the NFL.
You read a lot about the loss of leadership on the current Steelers team as it looks to transition from veterans to younger players. Who were the leaders on the Steelers teams you played for and how did they assert themselves as leaders?
Donnie Shell, Mike Webster, Edmond Nelson, Tunch Ilkin, Craig Wolfley, John Stallworth, Mark Malone, and Robin Cole. These guys didn’t have to assert their leadership as much as they were examples of leadership and their presence in the locker room made a difference amongst us young players.
Humor plays a big part in keeping teams loose. Who were some of the guys on the Steelers teams you played for that helped keep things light, and how did they do so? Any examples of the hijinks/personalities?
Mike Merriweather was always a fun-loving jovial guy who was a tremendous athlete but also knew how to joke around and have fun.
What were some of the biggest differences you found between Pittsburgh and the Redskins organizations – and Cincinnati as well since you played one season there in ’96?
I appreciated all three organizations for what they were trying to accomplish and allowing me to be a part. The biggest difference is that I was part of a Super Bowl team with the Redskins. It was a phenomenal experience.
What are your thoughts on the current direction of the NFL – both with the players and the league in general?
Unfortunately, I’ve not thought considerably about the direction of the NFL but I can appreciate the greater awareness for player safety (as much as possible) and player development being a way to help pro athletes transition into mainstream society as productive citizens.
Any last thoughts for readers?
If they’d like to know more about what we’re doing in Orlando, go to our website www.OrlandoWOC.org We also have a free app. I appreciate the opportunity to share and give an update.