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Chris Johnson Says Claustrophobia Ruined his Chance to Play for Steelers

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The Steelers have been blessed with an abundance of talented running backs since the turn of the century from Jerome Bettis to the highly anticipated debut of Najee Harris, but the organization almost added another successful ball carrier in between. 

Appearing on Bryant McFadden’s All Things Covered Podcast, Chris Johnson stated that his claustrophobia during a team visit held him back from potentially donning the black and gold. 

“I was supposed to be a Steeler,” Johnson said. 

“The running back’s coach (Kirby Wilson) comes ‘he’s like man, our team doctors want to send you to the hospital to take an MRI.’ I’m like man I can’t do that. I’m claustrophobic. I toughed it out at the combine,” Johnson said. “He leaves, Tomlin comes in. Tomlin is like ‘Man listen, you know we got plenty of guys way bigger than you, like lineman. They have to go in there and take the MRI.”

Johnson says called his agent and told him the situation. He was advised to tell Tomlin that if his claustrophobia prevented him from taking the MRI, he couldn’t take it. Tomlin stood by his stance and ended further discussions. 

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“‘We really need you to take that MRI, but if you can’t take it, we’re just going to have to send you home, we can’t really do business with you.’ So they sent me home,” Johnson said. 

Johnson was drafted No. 24 overall in the 2008 NFL Draft by the Tennessee Titans out of East Carolina, one pick after the Steelers selected Rashard Mendenhall 23rd. He rushed for 9651 yards and 55 touchdowns in 130 games, spanning 10 seasons, primarily in Tennessee. 

2009 was Johnson’s most successful campaign, becoming the 6th ever to run for over 2,000 yards (2,006) in a season and the first since Jamal Lewis of the Ravens in 2003, punching it into the end zone 14 times as well. 

On the flip side, Mendenhall played five seasons with the Steelers before ending his sixth and final year of his career with the Arizona Cardinals in 2013. He rushed for 3,549 yards and 29 touchdowns in 57 games, 48 starts with Pittsburgh. 

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