Seahawk Cut Hurt, but Johnson Lands on His Feet in Atlanta : NFL: Former standout at Pacifica High and UCLA accepts the nature of the business, makes most of his chances.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It didn't matter that Norm Johnson won three games last season for the Seattle Seahawks, two with field goals in overtime and the other with four field goals.

What mattered was the 37-yarder he missed with six seconds left in regulation and the 40-yarder he missed in a 34-31 overtime loss to the Denver Broncos.

What mattered were the two field-goal attempts that hit the uprights and caromed away in a 24-17 loss to the Miami Dolphins.

When Johnson, the former Pacifica High School and UCLA standout, was released by the Seahawks in August after nine NFL seasons, he was more a victim of human nature than declining skills.

"It's like planes--you have a thousand safe landings a day that don't make the news, but as soon as one crashes it's the headline," said Johnson, 31. "A lot of times the negative is bigger news.

"I know the misses stood out in (Seattle Coach) Chuck Knox's mind. Some coaches look at wins as team wins, but when you lose by missing a field goal, I think they look at it differently. It's an emotional letdown."

Johnson sensed that Knox lost confidence in him after the Denver loss, which dropped the Seahawks to 0-3 in 1990. And when Seattle drafted Georgia kicker John Kasay in the fourth round last spring--the team had never selected a kicker that high--Johnson knew his Seahawk days were numbered.

Johnson requested to be released or traded during the summer, but Seattle kept him throughout the exhibition season, in which Johnson made all three field-goal attempts, from 46, 54 and 21 yards.

He was finally released Aug. 26, the week before the regular season. Two weeks later, the Atlanta Falcons picked up Johnson, who kicked field goals of 28 and 36 yards Sunday to help Atlanta defeat the San Diego Chargers, 13-10.

"Things are different here, but I look good in black," said Johnson, the Seahawks' all-time leading scorer with 810 points. "I loved Seattle, but I don't think they treated me fairly in the end. That made it easier to take off the blue and green and put on the black."

What irked Johnson the most is that he believed the Seahawks had no intention of retaining him and only kept him through August to dangle him as trade bait. When there were no takers, Johnson was cut at perhaps the worst time of the year to be looking for a job in the NFL.

"They were doing what's best for the organization, trying to get something for me, but it wasn't in my best interest to stay until the last cut," Johnson said. "That teed me off. I did a lot for the team and the community, but they saw it only in bottom-line dollars.

"I didn't appreciate them playing with my career, but I'm not the only one that's happened to. In the NFL, they have complete control of players. We're more or less tools as far as management is concerned."

Johnson remained confident of his skills but was wary of the job market. His resume included a team-record 23 field goals in 1990, including a 40-yarder in overtime to give Seattle a 13-10 victory over San Diego Nov. 25 and a 42-yarder in overtime in another 13-10 victory over the Houston Oilers the next week.

Although he had trouble from 30-39 yards, making only eight of 14 field goals from that range, Johnson showed he still had a strong leg by making five of six from 40-49 yards.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Seahawk kickoff teams have ranked second in the NFL in average drive starts--the yard line opponents begin drives after kickoffs--for the past three years. The statistic is a measure of the kicker's distance and hang time and the team's coverage ability.

"I was almost sure I was the best kicker available, but if no one wants to step up to the plate and make a change, I might have been sitting out," Johnson said. "I might be better than a lot of kickers, but they may be doing a good enough job to hang around. You never know."

Johnson had tryouts with the Buffalo Bills and Atlanta the week after he was cut but received no initial offers. He spent the first two weeks of the season monitoring the NFL to see which kickers were struggling and where the best employment opportunities were.

He noticed that Kasay missed a 37-yarder with 11 seconds remaining that would have tied the score in Seattle's season-opening loss to the New Orleans Saints and then missed a 23-yarder against the New York Jets the second week.

"It was hard because the only kicker struggling in the league was John," Johnson said. "But it wasn't like I felt vindicated. I like John. He's a good kicker and a friend, and it wasn't his choice to play in Seattle. Chuck probably thought I would have missed the same field goals, anyway."

Rich Karlis had kicked for Atlanta during the exhibition season but lost the job to Brad Daluiso, a rookie from UCLA who was acquired in a trade from Green Bay in late August.

Daluiso made two 23-yard field goals and missed a 26-yarder in Atlanta's first two games, and four of his six kickoffs went into the end zone for touchbacks.

But the Falcons, who play host to the Raiders on Sunday, decided to go with a more experienced kicker and signed Johnson, who now has made 161 of 231 field goals in his career.

Johnson has been with the Falcons for only a week and a half, but he is already comfortable playing for Atlanta Coach Jerry Glanville, whose flamboyant style is on the opposite end of the emotional spectrum from the stoic Knox.

"They like to have fun around here--they're loose and they really get excited to play," Johnson said. "You're allowed to have fun, which is a lot different than Seattle.

"The special teams here aren't so technical. There's not so much to remember. If you didn't do the exact perfect thing in Seattle, you were screwing up. Guys were always getting yelled at, and there was a lot of negative reinforcement. Here, they just want you to get the job done however you feel you have to get it done."

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