MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports­­

Buffalo Bills running back Ty Johnson participated in practice Thursday afternoon wearing a red non-contact jersey as he remains in concussion protocol following the hit he took to the head Sunday night on the final play of the first half in the Bills’ 21-14 AFC East divisional win over the Miami Dolphins.

The former Fort Hill High School and University of Maryland great left the game at that point with a concussion, but felt fine after the game according to a family friend who was with him, and was able to take part in Wednesday’s practice in a limited manner according to Bills head coach Sean McDermott.

Ty must continue to work himself through the league’s five-step concussion protocol and be cleared by an independent neurologist before getting the green light to suit up in Sunday’s wild-card game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Bills have won five straight games to close out the regular season while the Steelers have won three in a row behind third-string quarterback Mason Rudolph. As of Thursday afternoon, Buffalo stood as a 10-point favorite.

So Ty Johnson faces yet another challenge (what else is new?) until he becomes the first football player from Cumberland to play in an NFL playoff game in 40 years, the previous player having been the late, great Steve Trimble, who played for the Denver Broncos in a 1983 wild-card game against Seattle, which the Seahawks won, 31-7.

Ty, of course, has fought and overcome long odds from almost the beginning, dating back to his time at Fort Hill, and this season, you’ll recall, opened with quite a challenge as well, as he had re-signed with the New York Jets in March after playing in all 17 games last season. He tore his pectoral muscle, though, while training away from the team and was released shortly thereafter on April 26 with “a non-football injury” designation.

The release came one day after Ty had undergone the surgery the Jets doctors told him to have, but that Ty did not want to have. The average time missed after a pectoralis major tendon repair is four to six months, but Ty made it back in the under-4 and was medically cleared to resume football, which, certainly, came as no surprise to anyone who’s ever been around him.

He soon signed a one-year deal with the Bills and began the season on the practice squad before becoming a solid contributor to Buffalo’s late-season division-title run.

On a selfish personal note (hey, it’s my column so I’ll cry if I want to, cry if I want to …), I have never liked the New York Jets, or at least I haven’t liked them since Super Bowl III (I am Colleen Burke’s son; of course I hold a grudge). So while I had to root for the Jets while Ty was playing for them, I much prefer rooting for the Buffalo Bills and did not mind one bit as the Jets suffered through one of the worst seasons in franchise history — which, in itself, is saying something.

In the larger and more adult picture, it’s all worked out pretty well, for the Buffalo Bills and for Ty Johnson, for as everybody understands, the NFL playoffs are a big deal, and if all goes well for the remainder of the week, Ty Johnson will be playing in them.

Think about that: A guy from Cumberland — one of our own, who comes back home every offseason and continues to contribute to the community — is playing in the NFL playoffs and is being counted on by his team to help win the Super Bowl. And guess what? The Buffalo Bills are a legitimate contender to win the Super Bowl.

Everyone will be watching. They were watching Sunday night when Ty was the central part of a play that is still being discussed by important people who are not even involved in the sports world, because Miami’s Jerome Baker should have been called for a helmet-to-helmet hit that would have given the Bills an untimed play to finish the half.

But the clock was allowed to run out and Ty was finished for the evening.

Hopefully, he can play, because he’s earned it, and because this will be his kind of game. His style is just right for what the conditions are said to be — he’s a downhill, North-South runner, who can get through to the second level, then has the burst to finish.

Regardless, Ty Johnson is an NFL playoffs player. He’s in, because he put himself in, beginning from the early days of his still-young life when he made up his mind to put himself in.

The kid from Penn Avenue they said wouldn’t play a down at the University of Maryland is a key player for a key team in the NFL playoffs. He’s a key man for a team that likes him and counts on him, and has from the moment they made him part of the team.

Which makes it all so much sweeter.

Ty Johnson’s remarkable journey continues. It’s going to be fun to see where he takes us next.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT