Stevie Johnson is mostly known for his displays in the end zone after touchdowns. What most fans don't know is the very different Stevie Johnson that exists off the field. Giving back to others, particularly fans, is something that comes naturally to the playmaking receiver. That generosity was reflected in a contest Johnson conducted on Twitter earlier this week that led to a greater outcome than even he anticipated.
After accepting an invite to the NFC Championship game between the San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants, from former teammate and current 49ers safety Donte Whitner, Johnson's eyes were opened to the true passion of NFL fans sitting in the stands with them at the game.
"Besides me playing in football games I've only been to one (to watch) when I was 12 or 13-years old and didn't care about football too much then," Johnson told Buffalobills.com. "I was just taking it all in watching people react to plays. It's crazy to see how much love these people have for players they don't even know. It was a whole different outlook on the game. So I began thinking to myself how crazy would it be for people like this to be at the Super Bowl?"
From there Johnson's idea was spawned. The receiver would hold a contest on Twitter for his nearly 79 thousand followers to win his pair of Super Bowl XLVI tickets for this Sunday's game. But Johnson didn't want people just begging for tickets or providing some kind of hollow sob story to win them. Instead people would have to nominate someone else. As Johnson wrote on his twitter account…
*StevieJohnson13 Yall know I'm all about giving back & bringing joy to unsuspecting people's lives.* So 140 characters or less to tell me why some1 u know deserves to go to SBXLVI w/ a SURPRISE guest. Give Back 2 others.
Johnson received a myriad of responses, but right from the beginning of the contest, which began on Jan. 29th the support for a high school senior named Mark Armstrong, a three-sport athlete from Clarence, New York was overwhelming.
"I wanted to see if people were really genuine about the whole contest," said Johnson. "You could say, 'Who wants a million dollars?' Everybody wants a million dollars. They're going to vote for their significant other so they can get a piece of it, or their sister or brother so they can get a piece. But our winner Mark Armstrong, he had people from his high school voting for him. There was no relation, it was straight up love. He had an unfortunate situation with his family, but the way people came together for him was amazing."
Just a day before the contest Mark's father Bob Armstrong died unexpectedly from a heart attack at age 50. A respected hockey, baseball and softball coach in Clarence, it was clear Armstrong's father had successfully impacted the lives of hundreds of young athletes in their community. His work in coaching was likely the catalyst for the support of his son Mark in Johnson's twitter contest making the decision for the Bills receiver very easy.
"The number was pretty shocking," said Johnson. "He had over 400 tweets of support. He was even trending on twitter for a while so that was big. I checked his timeline and was amazed to see that he didn't even tweet to ask for support in this contest. There was just a ton of support for him from his high school community."
Johnson was so impressed that he ended the contest a day early announcing Armstrong the winner on his twitter account Tuesday.
*StevieJohnson13The love respect & selfless support many of you showed me for your friend classmate & teammate Mark Armstrong was crazy. Congrats my dude.*
Armstrong was just as shocked by the outpouring as Johnson, and took to twitter himself to express thanks and appreciation.
*markarmstrong12I love all of Clarence high school and everyone! You don't know how much this means to me! #lovestevieandchs!*
Johnson was able to reach Armstrong by phone on Tuesday, but after initially speaking to his mother wasn't sure if his winner would be able to accept the prize.
"We talked to his mother first and she thought it was a joke and wasn't really me giving away tickets," Johnson said. "So she said that her son wouldn't be able to go so I was worried thinking we'd have to pick someone else. But I got on the phone with Mark afterwards and he's telling me, 'Oh no you don't know my mom. She's very protective and she probably doesn't even believe that it was you. But I can go. Let me talk to her first and I'll call you back.' So he called back and said he can go and he and his brother are going to go."
The weekend will undoubtedly have a lot of highs and lows. Armstrong and his family will have his father's funeral on Saturday. The next morning he and his older brother David, will then make the eight-hour drive to Indianapolis to arrive in plenty of time for the 6:30 pm kickoff between the Patriots and Giants.
For mother, JoAnne Armstrong, the week has been very trying, but the support her family has been given has helped. Knowing her two sons have an opportunity to have a day away from their new reality is an experience she can accept.
"The timing for me is difficult," she said. "But if it can be a day for them to celebrate and be together and provide a ray of sunshine in a dark hour that's great. Hopefully it will be a memory that will help them heal and strengthen their bond as brothers."
Johnson will be waiting in Indianapolis Sunday for the Armstrong brothers to arrive.
"I will be up there so I can give them the tickets and meet them in person," said Johnson. "I don't want to have a contest and not meet anybody. So I'm going to be up there and hand him the tickets and maybe go eat with him and his brother and hang out. Whatever is on the schedule."
For Johnson the contest was about being selfless instead of selfish. He even tweeted during the contest that life is about service to others. Johnson realizes that he may not have always lived up to that ideal on the football field, but he sounds as if he's ready to now with the part of his career that lies ahead.
"This is me every day outside of the football field," he said. "I try to tell people when I put on the helmet I get super competitive and I'm a different person. I want to dominate, but that's just one day out of the week. The rest of the time, this contest is more of what I'm about off the field.
"Giving away Super Bowl tickets is something where some might see my true character a bit more. That's not why I did it, but if that what comes out of it then so be it. That's why I go to the schools and talk to the kids. What got recognized this past season is on me also because I did those things, but it's time to take the next step and maybe this is a good way to start that."
Johnson was impacted by the fans he witnessed at the NFC Championship game. He thought he'd be giving an NFL fan a memorable experience. Little did he know that he'd help make a tragic experience a little easier to look back upon knowing it led to an outpouring of support to provide a once in a lifetime experience at the Super Bowl.
"I didn't give him this gift," said Johnson. "He won because of who he is and who his father was. He won because of his friends going to bat for him, for his family going to bat for him. If he wasn't the type of person he was he would not have gotten the support that he got. So I give him credit for being the person he is and having the friends that he has. It all played into it."
That's why one of Armstrong's tweets after the contest was over summed it up best.