Give Him Time, 'The Bull' Proves He Is A Winner
It was not lost on Brad Johnson - nothing ever is - that his career-high five touchdown passes Sunday came against the Minnesota Vikings, his first NFL team, where his journey began 10 years ago. ``I had a lot of hay in my hair then,'' Johnson said.

Everywhere he has gone in this league, a crowd has gathered to say there was somebody better on the farm. It's no different here. Rob Johnson. Shaun King. Always the talk. Brad Johnson has heard it often. He does not have a rocket arm or winged feet. Keyshawn Johnson might throw a better spiral, as witnessed by his celebratory toss into the stands Sunday. Brad Johnson always suffers by such comparisons. ``I'm not a flashy guy,'' he said. ``I'm going to be consistent. You're not going to see a lot of highlight films of me on TV. You're not going to see me dance, or catch a lot of one-liners from me. I'm going to be as consistent as you can be.''

He is forever matched against a younger, sexier talent, the new and improved NFL quarterback. Sunday it was Daunte Culpepper, bigger, stronger and faster. But there always will be a place for Brad Johnsons on football rosters. A place for playing hurt, smart and well. A week ago, Johnson felt a knife in his side each time he took a breath. It still hurt this week, but not as much. Johnson's decision came from the heart beneath those ribs. ``You can't miss days like this.''

He wore his usual padding, nothing extra over the rib he cracked in Philadelphia, where he took another beating. He sucked it up Sunday and breathed life into an offense riddled with injuries and doubt. Never mind that it came against the Purple Pansy Eaters on the Minnesota defense. The Bucs needed this. And when he was needed, when we wondered what he would do, Brad Johnson played his best game as a Buc in a 38-24 victory. His numbers sparkled: 24 of 31 passing, 313 yards, five TDs, no interceptions. Johnson's favorite numbers were 7 and 2 - his team's record. Johnson's teammates always get around to his toughness. ``That's why they call him `The Bull,' '' Bucs offensive lineman Todd Washington said. ``Pain or no pain, cracked ribs or no cracked ribs, he's going to come out and give everything he's got. We rally around that.''

They did Sunday. The Bucs offensive line, awful in recent weeks, didn't let anyone near those ribs. Johnson concentrated on his own targets, including his favorite one. Johnson & Johnson. Wasn't this how it was always supposed to be? Brad getting time and pinpointing it to Keyshawn, who grabs everything. They hooked up nine times for 133 yards. Keyshawn scored two touchdowns, as many as he'd had in the previous season and a half. Before Sunday's game, Keyshawn was talking with someone when the someone blurted out the standard line: Brad Johnson wasn't good enough. ``Let me tell you something,'' Keyshawn said. ``You give that man time and that dude's going to dice somebody up.''

Brad Johnson might not be the best at anything in this league. He's not good enough to overcome bad protection. His deep ball remains suspect. Can he win a game all by himself? No. Is he a winner? Yes.

Give him time and he will thread a needle. He will get you home. He won't cost you the game, and he might just win one, like on Sunday. The Bucs are 7-2. And that is enough right now. His next bad game will start the next quarterback controversy. But there always will be a place for Brad Johnsons in this league, whether there's hay in their hair or gray in their hair. Want to know why? Simply ask them if they're ready to go. If they are, and sometimes even if they aren't, they'll be consistent. They'll say the same thing every time. You can't miss days like this.