The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Sports

June 10, 2009

Johnson living in the lap of luxury, with football a distant memory

ISLAMORADA, Fla. €" This is where the sweat is, in a cramped and dark room away from all the light in his life. It is the only place you will find the scent of who Jimmy Johnson used to be, back when the chase defined him and made him a so very unhappy champion, and it smells a lot differently than the rest of his manicured property out here in paradise.

Just outside is a private beach and a swimming pool with a bar and a saltwater pond he fills with lobster and fish he catches himself. And a Corvette with less than a thousand miles on it because, if he has to leave this breathtaking area at all, he does so in one of his two boats.

But in here, in this musty weight room in the guest house, near all his worn-out scuba tanks and fishing rods, is just about the only proof that Johnson once presided over kingdoms. All the magazine covers are in frames on the wall, dozens of them from inside and out of sports, plus the photos with Bill Clinton and Paul McCartney and Gene Hackman and the like. The photos are not unlike the football life that gave birth to them €" faded, out back, behind him.

"The old days," Johnson says, sweeping a hand across the room. "My wife says she doesn't want any of this crap in the house."

A laugh. The former Miami Hurricanes and Dolphins coach does that a lot these days. Laughs and dances shirtless and drinks Heineken Lights and throws parties and hugs friends and calls his wife Rhonda "Honeybun" and worries not at all.

Look at those photos, and you will see Johnson age right before your eyes into the trim and tan grandfather he is today, the bloated and maniacal dictator replaced by a lean 190 pounds of life-is-good. He is so happy. Happier than he ever was while conquering strong men and holding up trophies. And, not coincidentally, the light started pouring into his life just about the moment he left behind football for good.

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