And as Johnson thanked those in his life, the seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver got emotional while addressing his mom, who was in the audience, saying the struggles he faced in his childhood motivated him to succeed on the football field.
"A lot of people don't know, but I played the game of football ... I played the game very angry," Johnson said. "And the reason I played that way was just because of the way I grew up. I just never wanted to go back to living that lifestyle again."
Johnson, 35, recalled seeing how hard his mom worked and the sacrifices she made for him while he was young. He called parts of his childhood in Miami "a tough time that we experienced as a family" as he grew up without much of a relationship with his dad. He also thanked his uncle Andre, whom he called his father figure.
"Ever since I was a little kid, I had no man figure to go to and you've been there with me every step of the way," Johnson said, referring to his uncle. "I thank you for your advice. I thank you for your love. Even at times when I felt like I had nobody to talk to, I could always call you. So I'm very thankful to you for that. And I love you."
Johnson played 12 seasons in Houston and is the franchise's leading receiver with 13,597 yards. He went on to play one season for the Indianapolis Colts in 2015 and a half-season for the Tennessee Titans last year before retiring. He signed a one-year contract with Houston to formally retire as a member of the Texans.
Johnson said his one regret was that he wasn't able to bring a Super Bowl title to Houston, and he challenged the players in the audience Wednesday to win one so he can get a ring.
Johnson finished his career with 1,062 catches for 14,185 yards and 70 touchdowns, and he has the 11th-most receptions and receiving yards in NFL history. He is a strong candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame when eligible in five years, but he said that is not on his mind.
"People have mentioned it to me, but I haven't thought five years down the road," Johnson said. "But if it happens, it will be an exciting time."