Most athletes never forget a slight — real or perceived — and Jovon Johnson is no exception.
The twelve-year CFL veteran left Winnipeg on rocky terms following the 2013 season and used the departure as motivation every time he faced his old team.
“I felt like it (signing with Ottawa in 2014) was the perfect opportunity for me to showcase that I was still able to play, and let [Winnipeg] see that they let a player like me walk away. Every time I got the opportunity to play against them again, I wanted to make sure that they knew that they made a mistake when they let me leave,” Johnson said on TSN 1200 radio in Ottawa.
The five-foot-nine, 190-pound cover man signed with the expansion Redblacks in February 2014 and played two seasons with the team. He recorded 87 tackles, six interceptions, and two sacks while helping lead a young defence that improved quickly over two seasons in the nation’s capital.
“That game against Winnipeg when I had two interceptions and then I also stopped the third-and-one with a big hit on the running back in the backfield. That game stuck out to me as the most memorable from my time in Ottawa.”
Johnson became a fan favourite over six years with the Blue Bombers, making 358 tackles, 23 interceptions, seven forced fumbles in 107 regular season games. He also scored eleven touchdowns — seven on defence and four as a return specialist — while playing in the Manitoba capital.
The native of Erie, Penn. made history in 2011 when he became the first and only defensive back in CFL history to be named Most Outstanding Defensive Player. He was the first Blue Bomber to win the award since linebacker Greg Battle in 1991.
Winnipeg started cleaning house midway through the 2013 season, firing general manager Joe Mack following a 1-5 start. Johnson was one of the core players the team elected not to re-sign and was upset with how the team went about informing him of their decision to move on.
“Playing six of my best years in Winnipeg with that organization who showed me so much love as a player, and the community was near and dear to my heart, it hurt in 2013 for them to call me and leave me a voicemail to tell me that they weren’t going to re-sign me.”
“At that point I really felt disrespected, because I spent the vast majority of my career there, no disrespect to anybody within the organization, but I never thought that our relationship would end over a voicemail.
“I just felt like that wasn’t very professional, but it’s business and you gotta move on, so I did that.”
Johnson played against the Blue Bombers many times over the last five years of his CFL career as a member of the Redblacks (2014-2015), Alouettes (2016), and Saskatchewan Roughriders (2017-2018). He recorded 206 tackles, 12 interceptions, eight sacks, and three touchdowns during that time, proving that he still had game left.
“That part of the way it ended in Winnipeg was one of those moments in my career where I just wanted to for the rest of my life, anytime I go the opportunity to play against them to show them that I could still ball, and that’s what I did every single time I played them.”
Johnson and the Blue Bombers have since patched things up, with the 37-year-old signing a one-day contract in March 2020 to officially retire with Winnipeg.