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Honoring Ted Johnson

For ten years, linebacker Ted Johnson knocked down opposing players emphatically and consistently enough to earn the appreciation of his teammates, his coaches, his employer, and New England fans. That achievement accounts for the celebration at halftime on Sunday at Gillette Stadium, where the owner of the New England Patriots, Robert Kraft, presented Ted Johnson with a framed jersey and gave him a big hug.

As numbers of football writers have opined, the Patriots, currently ranked 31st at stopping the run, could certainly use Johnson in his prime. But he retired unexpectedly at 32 just before the current season began because although his six foot four, 253 pound body was willing, his head was not.

"I have recurring symptoms of head trauma," Johnson told Boston Globe writer Jackie Macmullan just a month ago. "My mind goes completely blank without warning."

On Sunday, Johnson assured reporters that the residual effects of the concussions he suffered as a player were "not too bad," but a month earlier he acknowledged to Macmullan that his memory lapses have been frightening him and his wife.

In pro football, players earn respect by playing with pain, and nobody who can't or won't do that lasts long. That is the ethic of the league, and it accounts for life-altering injuries to knees, shoulders, and brains, among other useful body parts.

According to last month's interview, for the last several years of his career, Ted Johnson's devotion to that ethic meant that he continued to play not so much with pain as with confusion, and occasionally without balance. Sometimes he would fall down on his way back to the huddle. "My mind would just go into this half-speed mode," he told Macmullan. "There were times when I'd be lining up for the next play, and I still wouldn't have any focus."

Continuing to play in the N.F.L. under those circumstances will strike some people as heroic. It will strike others as insane. Ted Johnson himself told reporters on Sunday that he had no regrets. He also told them that he was overwhelmed by Robert Kraft's tribute, and seemed to feel the occasion was memorable.

I hope it will be.

This program aired on December 10, 2005. The audio for this program is not available.

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