I’ve traveled my entire life, but it’s always been football-related, either as a player or a coach for 40 years, and then with Fox NFL Sunday. It was a short boat trip that had a huge impact, though. I started coaching football at the University of Miami in 1984, and I’d only been in town a couple of weeks when a friend said, “Hey, let’s go down to the Florida Keys.” I’d never even heard of the Keys.
We went by boat from Miami—about a 90-minute ride along the islands—and we ended up at the Holiday Isle Tiki Bar in Islamorada. I was accustomed to the Gulf Coast in Texas and how dark the water was there, but when I saw how crystal clear the water was in the Keys, I was amazed. On top of that, the atmosphere is laid-back; some places in the Keys are almost like little fishing villages. I just fell in love with it.
Here’s how much I was in love with the place: Nine years later, when I was the coach of the Dallas Cowboys and we won our second consecutive Super Bowl, Jerry Jones and I were on the podium after the win. My hair was soaking wet where they’d thrown Gatorade on me. The phone rang, and it was President Clinton, and he said, “Coach, congratulations for winning your second Super Bowl. I want you to come to the White House.” Without thinking, I said, “I’m sorry, Mr. President, I’m going down to the Florida Keys. I’m gonna go fishing.” Jerry grabbed the phone from me immediately and said, “Mr. President, we will be at the White House!”
After I left Dallas, there wasn’t any doubt in my mind where I wanted to live. I started searching for a property in the Florida Keys, and that’s where I’ve been ever since. I have two center console boats, and I do a lot of fishing and lobstering. I fish alone about 50 percent of the time—it’s so peaceful. I was in such a stressful job when I coached, and this is just the opposite. I like to get way out there where I can’t see another boat, put out four or five lines, put the boat on autopilot, grab a cold beer, and just relax. For the lobsters, you dive after them with a net in one hand and a tickle stick in the other. They like to hide in any kind of little crevice or crack, so you put the net behind them and give them a little nudge on the head with the tickle stick, and they’ll shoot right into your net.
As much as I like having the time alone, it’s also a great place to entertain. It’s a tremendous bonding experience when my family comes down, and I’ve also had probably eight or nine NFL owners and 30 or 40 NFL and college coaches down to visit. Bill Belichick comes almost every year. Terry Bradshaw comes down on a regular basis, too. One of the first times he got on the boat with me, he said, “Are we gonna go so far we don’t see land?” I said, “You got that right!” He brought his daughters, so I took them snorkeling. His kids were like a couple of fish, but when I told Terry to get in he said, “I’m not getting in that water! There are sharks in that water!” I had to put a line out with a buoy, and he jumped in and hung on to the buoy behind the boat.
I still do Fox NFL Sunday—although I’ve been threatening to retire for the last 10 years. There will come a day that I retire, and then I’ll be down there 100 percent of the time. There’s no way anybody can ever get me out of the Keys.
Two-time Super Bowl-winning coach Jimmy Johnson is an analyst on Fox NFL Sunday and the author of the memoir Swagger. He will appear on Fox’s Super Bowl LV II pregame show on February 12.