Greg Johnson is a
19-year-old orphan who can run 100 yards in :09.6, a flight of high hurdles in
:14.0, and long-jump 24� feet. His home town is East St. Louis, Ill., a grimy,
slummy industrial suburb. There he attended Lincoln High School and in 1967 was
designated an All-Metropolitan, All-State, All-America schoolboy football
player. Some 18 months ago the University of Wisconsin convinced Johnson of the
merits of a U. of W. education and gave him a scholarship with which to pursue
that education as well as touchdowns and finish-line tapes. Almost immediately
thereafter an operation was commenced, which, if successful, could in a few
years make the name Greg Johnson famous.
"We think that
he will be the 1971 Heisman winner," said Jim Mott, an energetic Wisconsin
publicity man, one day this fall before Johnson had ever played a varsity
football game. Already a barrage of words describing his speed, agility and
practice-field triumphs had been laid down by the university's heavy mimeograph
machines. In these dispatches Johnson was invariably referred to as "Grape
Juice," a childhood nickname, said Mott, which has no derivative connection
whatsoever with an "Orange Juice" somebody or other who is said to have
been a good football player somewhere out west last season.
All of which is
not extraordinary, there being this and every fall a dozen coaches and
publicity men who think they have what Wisconsin thinks it has in Johnson.
However, I am more interested in Grape Juice than the others because of an
acquaintanceship begun with him several years ago, before the drums had begun
to beat; even then he was an exceptional person as well as a superjock.
In August 1967 the
National Junior Olympics track and field championships were held in Washington,
D.C. Regional winners were brought to the capital and housed for three days in
a large motel complex. The tab was picked up by the Quaker Oats Company. The
supervision was furnished by the AAU. The evening before the meet contestants
were being interviewed in their rooms. The boys and girls, by regulation
between 14 and 17 years of age, were for the most part very nervous, very
polite and quiet. Generally they said things like they certainly did appreciate
the opportunity the Quaker Oats Company had given them to visit Washington and
they were very excited about having seen the Treasury building; they were going
to do their best so as not to disappoint their coaches, friends and parents
back home. While such things were emanating from four Midwestern boys, the door
of their room was thrown open and in roared a very different breed of Junior
Olympic cat, a husky, good-looking boy who bubbled vocally, physically and
psychically, as if his cork had just been pulled and thrown away.
"Man, where is
that reporter at?"
"I am old Greg
Johnson and you have got to talk to me."
have an IQ of 301 and a magic chest."
"I guess I do
have to talk to you. Tell me about the magic chest."