Larry Johnson: Iron Man?

He dons an armored uniform of red and gold, pulling on his helmet last before wreaking havoc on his enemies.

Currently, fans wonder if he’s the same old titanium-tough Merchant of Death we all got used to. Then again, the fans have never really gotten all that used to him. He’s never been as popular as his more-decorated peers. He’s always been less popular…and more misunderstood.

Whether it’s his urban sensibilities, his somewhat privileged roots, his playboy attitude or his standoffish demeanor towards the press, he’s never exactly been Mr. Popular with the average Janes and Joes. Envy (no, not Ty Brackenridge‘s favorite hangout)? Maybe. A big-time disconnect between him and normal folks? Definitely.

Now that he’s fallen victim to injury, both the fans and the press are trying to bury him. Right now, he remains quiet, retooling and planning his resurrection behind closed doors. He will return, though, and with a vengeance, naysayers be damned. He knows it, yet the doubters remain. He doesn’t care, because he’s got a secret: he’s about to drop a couple of bigger, better sequels on us.

Tony Stark, aka Iron Man? No. I’m talking about No. 27, the Roc of Arrowhead, L.J. I’m talking about Kansas City’s Iron Man, the one and only Larry Johnson.

I hate to say it, but there seem to be a lot of fans–Chiefs fans even–who hope to see L.J. fall flat on his face in his comeback attempt. Some even speculate that the Chiefs are privately planning to move him, especially with the rebuilding project now in full swing and Jamaal Charles waiting in the wings.

I hate to break it to those folks, but that is the exact opposite of what is going on. The exact opposite.

First off, the fact that the Chiefs gave L.J. Peyton Manning money when they wouldn’t give NFL sack leader Jared Allen similar big bucks shows just how vital Johnson is to the team’s long-team plans. They knew they were going into a rebuilding period when they offered the contract, even if they didn’t admit so publicly. Remember, King Carl is the ultimate P.R. guy, the quintessential bullshitter.

Second, the team hiring run-heavy O.C. Chan Gailey is another surefire sign of their commitment to 2-7. Gailey isn’t Mike Martz, but he isn’t Mike Solari either–he’s previously engineered several successful run-oriented NFL offenses. He was specifically hired to engineer yet one more in Kansas City. The Chiefs could have easily went with a Brodie Croyle mentor, and looked at several. In the end, they choose Gailey.

Next, the selection of Jamaal Charles. Is Charles an insurance policy? You bet. Will Charles provide flashes of lightening to compliment L.J.’s rumbling thunder? You bet. But I believe the biggest reason Charles was drafted early is due to the Chiefs wanting to keep Johnson fresh. Not just this season either. I’m talking three, four, five years down the road. We’re making sequels here, and he’s K.C.’s Robert Downey Jr. The Chiefs need him at full force for long enough that Herm “Ball Control” Edwards can mold a winner around his Roc.

Besides, as I’ve stated before, L.J.’s injury was a freak one that had nothing to do with previous mileage. It could have happened to any of us jogging a cross country trail or playing drunken grabass. Additionally, he was a late-starter in both college and the pros. Other than his 416-carry season, he’s still a low-mileage running back when you consider his age. After all, he only put seven-and-a-half games and a blink in the preseason on the odometer in ’07.

Here’s the deal: L.J.’s our Iron Man, and in the Chiefs’ grand scheme his story has only just begun. Expect him to be back and better than ever starting this upcoming season. You have two choices: A.) Keep drinking Haterade; or B.) Grab a bucket of popcorn and enjoy the show. Hell, we’re just getting through the previews. There’s a whole lotta Iron Man left to enjoy. Let’s just hope the brass surrounds its star with more Iron Chiefs.

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