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Just Give Us a Break
Jeff Pearlman
April 21, 1997
Just Give Me the Damn Ball!, By Keyshawn Johnson with Shelley Smith, Warner Books, 223 pages
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April 21, 1997

Just Give Us A Break

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Just Give Me the Damn Ball!, By Keyshawn Johnson with Shelley Smith, Warner Books, 223 pages

Two chapters into his autobiography, which he waited until after his first NFL season to write, Keyshawn Johnson cites rule No. 1 in the world of the trash talker: "I'm all for using your mouth...but don't do it to your own teammates."

This is the first and most obvious of many contradictions that plague a bitter, self-aggrandizing book. Johnson, a talented wide receiver for the New York Jets, spares no one—least of all his teammates—in reviewing his rookie season with the 1-15 team. Here's Johnson on New York quarterback Neil O'Donnell: "[Jets backup] Frank Reich is a better quarterback...he isn't looking to protect his stats." On the Jets' leading pass catcher, Wayne Chrebet: "He's not even a No. 3 receiver." And on New York's offensive coordinator Ron Erhardt: "[He] didn't know what the hell he was doing."

In fact, the only one not blamed for New York's misery in 1996 is Johnson, who, in addition to fighting racism and giving to charity, inspires teammates, frightens the opposition and is one heck of a guy. Readers are asked to feel sorry for Johnson; to believe that if only the Jets had thrown the ball to him more often, everything would have been dandy.

Unfortunately, discussion of some interesting, if less savory, aspects of Johnson's life, such as his days as a drug dealer and his associations with both the Crips and the Bloods, is limited, presumably to leave more room for self-congratulatory riffs. And though New York fans might agree that Rich Kotite "can't coach," they'll find Johnson's take on Chrebet, an undrafted free agent from Hofstra and the league's top third-down receiver, callous—he's called "the little kid" who "wouldn't even make anybody else's team." And his unsubstantiated assertion that O'Donnell faked a calf injury late in the season is absurd.

O'Donnell, an eight-year veteran who has already reacted angrily to the book, is mentioned on 29 pages, almost always in a negative light. So when the season opens will O'Donnell be inclined to throw to a man who thinks he's overrated? That he's afraid to go deep? That his beard is "scraggly-ass"?

In short, will he be ready to just give Johnson the damn ball?