"I want to get this team to the playoffs," he would say.
Now, after years of often terrible seasons, Johnson and the Texans have reached that goal. They will face Cincinnati on Saturday in the franchise's first playoff game.
This is Houston's 10th season, and Johnson has been there for all but Year 1. That makes him the longest-tenured player on the roster and the only one who's been in Houston longer than coach Gary Kubiak.
The receiver is the face of the franchise. When the Texans were at their worst, he was one of the only recognizable names on the team.
Johnson was long considered one of the NFL's top receivers, and many questioned why he chose to remain with the Texans when they were never even close to reaching the postseason.
Some also wondered if this team would ever make the playoffs. Johnson wasn't among them, though he never thought it would take this long.
"I always thought positive about it," he said. "It's been some frustrating times and I've had people ask me why didn't I leave? Why did I stay? I just wanted to be a part of something special. I wanted to be here when the Texans got in the first playoff game."
Johnson had chances to leave, but signed two contract extensions. The second one will keep him with the team through 2016. Everyone in the organization is happy the 30-year-old receiver is finally getting his playoff shot.
"Think about how long he's stuck it out here in Houston," said Kubiak, who was hired in 2006. "A lot of guys in this day and time move along, go somewhere else, lose their patience. Andre has never done that. He's been a rock around here."
Johnson has had a tough season, dealing with injuries to both hamstrings. The seven games he's played this season are a career low. He finished with more than 1,200 yards receiving the each of the past three seasons, including a career-high 1,575 in 2008, but had a career-worst 492 this season.
He played for the first time since Dec. 4 last week against the Titans, but was limited to about 15 plays. Kubiak said he'll be back at full speed Saturday and expects him to be key in the game.
"It all worked out," Johnson said. "I didn't get to play much this year, but to be able to be back healthy and get ready for the playoffs is pretty exciting. So I'm going to go out there and give it all I've got."
Both quarterbacks in this game share none of Johnson's history. Houston's T.J. Yates and Cincinnati's Andy Dalton are both rookies, the first time two rookies QBs have faced each other in a playoff game.
Yates, the former third-stringer, was thrust into the job after season-ending injuries to Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart.
"That makes it even more important for the guys that have put in the work on this team, the Andre Johnsons that have been here for forever and stuck with this organization and waited for a moment like this," Yates said. "It makes you want to work harder for them just so it can make the moment for them more special."
Cincinnati last reached the playoffs in 2009, but has been to the postseason just three times in the last 21 years. Their last postseason victory came at the end of the 1990 season with a 41-14 win over the Oilers.
Bengals offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said the players don't talk much about how long it's been since they advanced in the postseason.
"We have some guys who were close to being born when that happened," he said. "We have some young guys on this team. I promise you some of them have no clue about that. We just focus on what we can do to do our best and win for our city and the Cincinnati Bengals."
Bengals receiver A.J. Green has had an exceptional first year. He became the first rookie receiver to make the Pro Bowl since Anquan Boldin in 2003. He finished the regular season with 65 receptions for 1,057 yards and seven touchdowns.
He, too, realizes how lucky he is to be in the playoffs, given that Cincinnati cornerback Nate Clements has waited more than a decade to get there.
"Being my first year and being the first time in the playoffs, I haven't experienced anything else," Green said. "Just talking to a guy like Nate, he's been in the league 11 years and this is his first time in the playoffs. That's crazy. So that's a good feeling."
As for Johnson and the Texans, they now have to find new goals after finally accomplishing this one. It didn't take long to do that.
"There's a bigger goal than just getting to the playoffs," Johnson said. "You can't be satisfied with it. The goal here is getting to the Super Bowl."