When he steps out on the field, the fans chant “Rudi, Rudi, Rudi” as if it’s a chorus to a song everybody knows. No, this is not the story of that persevering kid from the University of Notre Dame who played every practice as if it was the championship game.
That was Rudy.
This is Rudi…Rudi Johnson, running back for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Similar to the feel-good story of Daniel E. “Rudy” Ruettiger made famous with the 1993 movie “Rudy” (TriStar Pictures), Rudi Ali Johnson knew he was destined to be a football player since he was a child.
“Ever since I was eight, I knew football was what I wanted to do with my life,” he said.
“I never really thought about doing anything else.”
At a young age, Rudi made it his life goal to play in the NFL as noted in a poem he made for his mother, Janice Johnson, when he was in third grade titled “I Wish.” In his poem, the young, aspiring Rudi wrote how he wished to be a football player when he grew up, play for the Minnesota Vikings and be a fullback and play for 21 years.
“I never forgot that poem,” he said. “That poem motivated me to get where I am now and [I] always referred back to it when times got a bit rough.”
In his sixth year as an NFL pro, Rudi has become one of the league’s premier running backs. So, while he basically got his wish, it didn’t come easily.
Not having the grades to go to a Division I college after high school, Rudi had to spend two years at Butler County Community College in Kansas, where, as a sophomore, he averaged 7.3 yards per carry. His time there was anything but a waste.
“My best football memory is winning two national championships back-to-back while at Butler,” he remembered.
After his stint in Kansas, Rudi went to Auburn University, where his 324 rushing attempts was a school single-season record and his 1,567 rushing yards were the second-most in Auburn’s history.
In 2001, Rudi was drafted by the Bengals with the fifth pick of the fourth round of the NFL draft (100th pick overall) but saw very little playing time his first two seasons as a pro. His big chance came when first-string running back Corey Dillon missed much of the 2003 season with injuries.
“I knew I was prepared, and when the chance came, I had enough confidence in myself to prove to the coaches I had the ability to perform,” he said confidently. “I just needed that one chance, and I took full advantage of it when the time came.”
Becoming one of the NFL’s better running backs, Rudi was one of the main reasons for the Bengals’ dramatic improvement the past few seasons. His fans are certain that he will one day be remembered as one of the greatest running backs in NFL history, but don’t think he’s done yet.
“I still have to go to the Super Bowl,” he said. Only 27 years old, Rudi believes he still has at least another good seven years to his game, and will continue to push himself harder each season.
When he’s not on the field, Rudi makes sure to get a lot of sleep, chill and travel as much as possible.
“I go to the Bahamas at least once a month,” he said. “I also travel between Cincinnati, Virginia Beach and Miami in my off season.”
But don’t think all the money and fame has changed this humble young man that grew up in a small town near Richmond, Virginia. He has a heart of gold and doesn’t mind giving back to his community.