He spent eight seasons there, made two Pro Bowls there, earned NFL Comeback Player of the Year honors there, and yet less than a week away from returning to the only other NFL city that he's ever called home, defensive end Joe Johnson insisted that facing the New Orleans Saints this Sunday won't be anything special.
"I approach this game like any other," Johnson said Monday. "This is a must-win game for us, just like the rest of them are. For me it's not any different than it is for anybody else. It might be slightly more emotional for me, but other than that, it's another game that we must win."
When Johnson signed with the Packers as an unrestricted free agent March 26, he did so with the hopes that he might see more victories in Green Bay than he had in New Orleans. In his eight years there, the Saints had but one winning season, compared to seven for the Packers over that span.
But the fact remains that Johnson isn't with the Packers today because he wanted to escape from the team that had gone 49-79 in his tenure, but because the team that had gone 49-79 didn't seem to want him back.
"I didn't make a decision to leave (New Orleans)," Johnson said, citing the Saints' unwillingness to meet his contract demands. "There was no decision to be made except for where I was going to move on from there to . . . In the beginning I was prepared to work things out and remain there, but that didn't work out."
Although he missed all of the 1999 season after tearing his right patellar tendon during training camp, in the two seasons since Johnson demonstrated the same every-down grit and determination that has characterized his career.
In 2000 he tallied a career-best 12 sacks among his 66 tackles, which he followed up with a 9-sack, 65-tackle performance last year.
That a downtrodden franchise would let its No. 5 all-time sack leader leave town without much of a fight seems puzzling to Johnson, but he also suggested that his departure was just another in a line Saints personnel decisions that left no solid explanation.
"This is not the first time this has happened in that organization, it's nothing new," Johnson said. "I don't look back at it, I just move on for the future. For me that's history. I don't have any ill feelings about the way it worked out . . .
"I think the majority of things happen for a reason; some things just happen. I try not to read too much into them because at that time and point you never really know and you kind of wreck yourself, wrack your brain, trying to figure out why things happened instead of just going through and carrying on with life."
Carrying on brought Johnson to Green Bay, but the 30-year-old St. Louis native said New Orleans would always be a second home to him. Two of his daughters still live there. And if his recent trips south have been any indication, fan reaction when he returns to the confines of the Louisiana Superdome will be that of appreciation.
"I've got the feeling that a lot of the fans understand that it's just a business and things like that happen," Johnson said. "I expect a pretty warm reception."
If he gets it, maybe Sunday's game will be something special for Johnson after all.