Former N.Y. Giant to help with local addiction mission

Groton — Community Speaks Out is hoping to score a Giant win in its mission to help those struggling with addiction when former NFL wide receiver Bobby Johnson comes to town this week to speak about his battle with drugs.

Johnson, 55, of Murfreesboro, Tenn., known for catching a season-changing pass from quarterback Phil Simms that helped  propel the New York Giants to a Super Bowl win in 1987, arrives Wednesday and will be on the run with public appearances until he departs three days later.  Johnson will be telling his story to students, parents and people in recovery and appearing at a meet-and-greet steak dinner/fundraiser Friday at the Birdseye Cafe in New London.

"He wants to become part of the hope that those who suffer should have," said Lisa Cote Johns, co-founder of Community Speaks Out. "He lost everything. Now, he's doing great and wants to be part of the action that makes changes."

Johnson has been clean for 14 years from a crack cocaine addiction that cost him his football career after only three years and left him destitute and suicidal. He sold his Super Bowl XXI ring for drugs, but coach Bill Parcells, who has been supportive of Johnson, bought it back for him last year.

"He had everything a young person could possibly want for his life," Johns said. "He lost it due to addiction. He wants to tell his story. It's a very sad story, but we hope he can get to kids before they become a statistic."

Johns, whose son Christopher died from an overdose in 2014, said she learned Johnson's story when her husband called her attention to a TV interview Johnson did with ESPN. She said she realized immediately that he could help save lives.

"I was in awe," she said. "I said, 'I have to meet him. Something is telling me I need to be his friend.' My husband was laughing, but I said, 'Watch.'"

Johns contacted Johnson on Facebook and told him about her son and Community Speaks Out.

"I told him how it was either, I was going to lay on my back and die or stand up and make changes," she said.

They met in Florida last year, when Johns coached the former wide receiver through his first public speaking engagement at a treatment center called Recovery Village. They bonded immediately, and Johns said she can't wait to introduce him to her friends in Connecticut.  She said Johnson would not be getting paid for his speaking engagements, but that they consider it a trade, since she is training him on public speaking.

Johnson's first appearance will be at Community Speaks Out's monthly support group, which is at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Groton Public Library and is open to the public.

On Thursday morning, he will be speaking about prevention to students at New London High School. That afternoon, he will speak to people in treatment/recovery at Stonington Institute. On Friday, he'll speak at the Lebanon Pines treatment center and accompany Johns to Connecticut College, where she will be meeting with students about Community Speaks Out's initiative to inspect and certify sober houses.

Friday night is the steak dinner at the Birdseye Cafe at 187 Jefferson Ave., New London. Johns said tickets, which are $25, are still available and will buy dinner and a chance to meet and speak with Johnson. Profits will go to CSO to help those in recovery. Johnson will autograph a football that will be raffled and sign autographs for $10 in order to defray his traveling expenses.  

Johns said she is thrilled to be bringing Johnson to southeastern Connecticut to spread the message that recovery is possible.

"I do everything I do with every fiber of my being for my son," she said. "The Giants were my son's favorite team, and I know he's super proud of me."

k.florin@theday.com

For tickets to the steak dinner, call Johns at (860) 908-3305, Ken Edwards at (860) 912-6817 or Melissa Ford at (860) 334-2751.

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