Larry McKenzie's voice practically leapt through the phone early Monday morning. He sounded equal parts giddy and proud.
Too many mornings begin with stories of tragedy in north Minneapolis. The headlines only occasionally shift from crime and poverty.
Sunday brought a story so positive and so beautiful that every resident of north Minneapolis — and this entire state, actually — should beam until their faces hurt from smiling.
Tyler Johnson, proud Northsider, now a Super Bowl champion.
"How cool is that?" gushed McKenzie, Johnson's former basketball coach at Minneapolis North High. "I would imagine that everybody in north Minneapolis is just on Cloud Nine."
Walk tall, Minneapolis. Celebrate this. Because this is your moment, too.
The kid who grew up in Minneapolis, helped save a high school, won a state championship, stayed home to go to college, became a star for the Gophers and earned his degree is now a champion.
This is a movie script.
"This is the best thing for the city," said Charles Adams, football coach at Minneapolis North. "Obviously, we cheer for the Vikings, but I honestly believe more of us are more excited for this than if the Vikings would have won. We have a connection. We know where this kid is from."
You bet, right here. North Minneapolis. Home.
Johnson didn't need the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to win the Super Bowl to achieve legend status in Minneapolis. A friend of mine who recently moved to Minneapolis and coaches youth sports summed up Johnson's popularity in the community in a text: "He has a following like you wouldn't believe."
Winning a Super Bowl adds to that aura, something that coaches and parents can use as reinforcement in driving home a message to kids in need of direction.
Look at Tyler Johnson. He's from right here. Same as you. And he got his college degree and won a Super Bowl. You can do anything, too.
"Here is a guy who has shown kids that if you have positive people in your life, if you listen and you do the right things, you can get to the top of the world," McKenzie said. "What Tyler has done for any kid, particularly in north Minneapolis but kids all over the state that look like him, he has become a mirror instead of a window."
McKenzie explained the meaning of that, referencing an autobiography he's reading on the late Hall of Fame Georgetown coach John Thompson. Kids who have role models that look like them can see that same greatness in themselves, rather than having to view it in others with detached perspective.
"Tyler is a mirror for these kids," McKenzie said. "They can look at him and see a reflection of themselves and know that it's possible."
North High was on the verge of closing its doors when Johnson arrived freshman year. Community leaders credit the school's rebirth in enrollment and sports success to Johnson's magnetic personality. Kids followed his lead instead of moving to other schools.
"He became the Pied Piper," McKenzie said.
Jim Halbur is president of the Phelps Activities Council that supports the Minneapolis Phelps Falcons sports program. He has known Johnson since 4th grade and calls Johnson's impact in north Minneapolis "transformational."
"You had a school that was going to close," he said. "If Tyler is not there, that school might be closed."
Johnson gave North High new life. He became one of the best wide receivers in college football for the Gophers, but let's focus on something else. He returned for his senior season because he wanted to become the first person in his family to earn a four-year college degree. He accomplished that. Now he's also a Super Bowl champion.
No matter that he wasn't involved much in the game plan Sunday. He wasn't able to haul in his one target from Tom Brady, but he showed off his strength with several key blocks on running plays. He played his role, and earned his ring.
Kids need to hear that story. Often. There is always hope and a path to success, even when it might seem like none exists.
Those who know Johnson best are already thinking about ways to honor him. Maybe a party this spring or summer. Something for a community that adores him, and he adores back. That would be quite a celebration.