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LETTER

The proud father

To the Sports Editor:

On April 22, 1995, the lives of our family changed forever. That afternoon, my son Ted Johnson Jr., was drafted by the New England Patriots. It was my 56th birthday, and none of us knew what to expect.

That morning, Ted and I played golf in our town of Tomball, Texas, hoping to pass the time and eliminate some of the predraft jitters. Back then, ESPN only televised the first round of the draft, then switched to ESPN2 for the subsequent rounds. Since Ted didn't expect to be taken that early, we shifted from our home (which didn't have ESPN2) to our family restaurant to see where Ted would end up.

When New England called Ted's name, we were elated, particularly after our son received a call from Bill Parcells welcoming him to the franchise. I joked since it was my 56th birthday maybe he could grab No. 56, but my son pointed out Andre Tippett already had that number locked up. Ted then chose No. 52.

At that time, my son knew little about the area. He said, ''Where is New England anyway? Where is Foxboro?" We pulled out the map and identified what would become his home for the next decade.

I can't tell what you a thrill it has been for Ted -- and our family -- to watch his Patriots career unfold. After years of watching him, I still got goose bumps every time he ran onto the field. During his second or third year, I drove him to the stadium to drop him off before a game, and the fans had lined the streets to tailgate. Ted was in awe of the number of No. 52 jerseys he saw. He said, ''These fans are unbelievable. They're the best."

Over the years, Ted made many friends along the way, including Elaine and Bob Trudel, Patriots fans and season ticket-holders who looked after Ted when he first came to Massachusetts. He developed an unbreakable bond with coach Parcells and coach Al Groh, who helped bring him along as a young player.

Ted developed a special relationship with owner Robert Kraft, who added a personal touch to the business of pro football. And our family will always be grateful to Charlie Armey, who discovered Ted at Colorado and convinced the Patriots organization he was their kind of guy.

Many great players never make it to one Super Bowl. Ted made it to four and won three rings. One of those titles was won in Houston, our present home, where New England fans flocked to our restaurant, the Rib Tickler, to tell us how much they appreciated our son. One man said, ''It's not what he does on the field, but what he's done as a person."

A couple of months ago, my son decided to retire. He plans on settling in New England. I know he would want to thank his coaches, his teammates, and the fans for all they've done.

I would like to thank those people, too, but I'd also like to thank my son -- for being someone we could always be proud of, both inside and outside the lines.

TED JOHNSON Sr.

Tomball, Texas

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