The Wizards were starting a four-game Western swing on Friday night in Salt Lake City. United were opening the season at home on Saturday afternoon.
After the Wizards game, Johnson was quick to draw attention to Boston because there were no more late-night flights heading east. He called Reagan National Airport, where broadcast partner Devon McTavish was waiting to drive him to an Audi field.
After the United game, he returned to the airport for a flight to San Francisco for the next day’s Wizards game against the Golden State Warriors.
“I’ve never wanted to miss a game,” Johnson, 58, said this week. “The passion behind football is very strong and unique, which is why I do it. Believe me, if I had to ride a ship and ride a bike too, I would go into the game.”
This chapter of Johnson’s life with United – crazy travel days and all – is coming to an end. MLS domestic broadcasts expire after this season. It means the end of Johnson and United, who wrap up their season at home on Sunday afternoon. Starting next season, Every match will appear on Apple TV As part of a 10-year deal worth $2.5 billion.
Apple and MLS haven’t finalized their broadcast plans yet, but according to people familiar with the discussions, officials are considering announcing 12 to 15 teams that handle matches at the site, such as the NFL.
With local production ending, broadcasters all over the league have begun Farewell while broadcasting. Many of them have been in the business for many years, but no one has done so with one club more than Johnson – first with Home Team Sports, then NewsChannel 8, Comcast SportsNet, WJLA 24/7 News, FloSports and NBC Sports Washington.
United could end up retaining him in some capacity, in order to play by radio or digital programming. (The current United radio broadcast is a simulated audio from an NBC Sports Washington broadcast.) For now, though, he’s not sure what the future holds.
“You knew this was coming, but you focus on the matches every week. Now all of a sudden you don’t know what’s next – it’s annoying,” Johnson said the next day Back from Tokyo with Wizards. “You’re preparing for the last match but it’s not just the last game, it’s The last game.”
Johnson recalled most of United’s 800-plus games in the regular season and described most of the team’s 1,200-plus goals with his signature shout: “It’s in the net!”
This call did not start with United. It began being used in radio broadcasts of the Baltimore Blast indoor games in the late 1980s.
Those were the days when Johnson – who is from Anne Arundel County and has followed Washington diplomats – was turning his love of sports into a career of playing.
A few years after the collapse of the North American Football League, Johnson called for games to be held for the Maryland Bays, a small-scale team based in Columbia. Before a 1988 playoff game in South Florida, Johnson cut a deal with owner John Lipparini: If Johnson paid for the broadcast, Lipparini would pay his travel expenses. Johnson got two hours for $250 at a station in Tucson.
Usually a couple of hours is all you need in football, but then “the sky turns black,” Johnson recalls. “The lightning starts. We’re on a delay. I can’t get it back to the station. I bought the time and they didn’t plan anything. It’s just me and my equipment, I’m literally talking for an hour and 15 minutes and pulling people out of the press box to fill in the time.”
The station did not charge him for overtime.
The launch of the MLS opened up new opportunities. His first broadcast partner was Gordon Bradley, former coach of the Diplomats, New York Cosmos and George Mason University. Over the years, Johnson has worked alongside Thomas Rongen, John Harks, and Santino Quaranta, among others.
Over the past seven seasons, McTavish has handled colorful commentary.
“Dave is the patriarch of the DC United community,” said McTavish, a former United player. “His passion is real. He has been doing it for 27 seasons because he loves the sport and he loves the club. He has gone through the highs and lows, and he keeps coming back – and back with a smile.”
A broadcast newbie, McTavish learned from his partner.
“Before the first broadcast, he said, ‘Just pretend we’re two guys in the bar,’” McTavish said. “It’s easy to say but there’s something else you feel that way. Dave makes you so comfortable.”
No matter what happens with MLS, Johnson will have a lot on his plate. He started his 26th season with the Wizards, and since 1995 he has tackled WTOP Radio’s Morning Sports Report.
He is also able to live with MS, which he was diagnosed with in 2019. “Life is harder, but it’s the new normal,” he said. Last month , “It’s in the net!” T-shirts Johnson was directed to help raise funds for the National MS Society.
Johnson’s mother died in 1979 of complications from MS. One of her good days, he said, was attending the Diplomats’ Match at RFK Stadium.
“Diplomats have given me a breather through a very difficult time next year without her,” Johnson said. “I have always vowed, if I have the opportunity to participate in sports, I will do so. I have been able to do this for more than half of my life.”