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Pro Football Hall of Famer Jimmy Johnson, who played for 49ers, dead at 86



Pro Football Hall of Famer Jimmy Johnson, who played for 49ers, dead at 86
The skilled soccer world right now is celebrating the profession of JIMMY JOHNSON, a flexible and gifted all-around athlete who turned a dominant cornerback within the Nationwide Soccer League over 16 seasons, all spent with the San Francisco 49ers.

A member of the Professional Soccer Corridor of Fame’s Class of 1994, Johnson died Might 8, 2024, at his house. He had remained within the San Francisco space after his profession and had been in declining well being for a while, his household stated.

“Jimmy Johnson was terribly athletically proficient. The 49ers loved the posh of utilizing him on offense and protection early in his profession to fill workforce wants,” Professional Soccer Corridor of Fame President Jim Porter stated. “As soon as he settled in at left cornerback, he flourished. The notion {that a} ‘lockdown’ cornerback may minimize the sector in half for the opposition was true with Jimmy.

“Solely hardly ever would different groups’ quarterbacks even look his course, and as a rule regretted the choice in the event that they challenged him.”

Born March 31, 1938, in Dallas, Johnson moved to central California as a younger boy. He turned a gifted all-around athlete and workforce chief who was named captain of his highschool’s soccer, baseball and basketball groups. He additionally ran monitor.

Later, at UCLA, he gained the NCAA 110-meter hurdles championship and was named an All-American, inviting comparisons to his older brother, 1960 Olympic decathlon champion Rafer Johnson.

Jimmy by no means shied away from the competitors at house – “Youthful brothers all the time need to be like their older brothers,” he as soon as stated – however he additionally noticed its drawbacks.

“I’ve bought one other brother who dropped out of sports activities as a result of he bought uninterested in having folks inform him to observe in Rafer’s footsteps,” he associated to a sportswriter. “They gave me the identical jazz. I did not prefer it both, however as a substitute of letting it bug me, I made a decision to just accept it as a problem to see if I may make it alone in sports activities.”

Soccer offered the outlet for Johnson to exhibit a little bit of individuality within the context of a workforce sport he loved.

He performed wingback and defensive again for the Bruins and was voted each the workforce’s finest blocker and its finest tackler. He additionally earned the workforce’s Iron Man Award for logging essentially the most minutes one season.

“I performed a whole lot of soccer, possibly not as a lot as I wished to,” he stated. “I may have performed 60 minutes.”

Johnson’s sturdiness and flexibility caught the eyes of professional scouts, and the San Francisco 49ers selected him within the first spherical of the 1961 NFL Draft with the sixth total choice. Coaches initially supposed to play him on offense.

Damage creates alternative

Johnson dislocated his wrist whereas working towards for the annual Faculty All-Star Sport, nevertheless, and he remained in a solid firstly of his rookie camp.

Unable to catch a soccer, however too good to remain on the sidelines, he moved to security. By the point Johnson’s rookie season led to 1961, he had intercepted 5 passes – second most on the workforce – and had gained distinction as a positive tackler.

“He is an actual good one. Mark my phrases. He’ll be round for some time,” stated JACK CHRISTIANSEN, at the moment a 49ers assistant just a few years away from his personal enshrinement in Canton. “He has the three necessities: large pace, nice reflexes and the willingness to deal with with authority.”

In 1962, Johnson reverted to offense. He caught 34 passes for 627 yards – each second highest for the 49ers, with a team-leading an 18.4 yards-per-catch common. In a sport towards Detroit, he totaled 11 receptions for 181 yards. In a victory over the Bears, he sealed a 34-27 win with an 80-yard TD reception that set a workforce file.

Johnson started the 1963 season at huge receiver, however a skinny secondary compelled the 49ers to maneuver him again to security in Week 4. In 1964, he was moved to left cornerback, a place he would maintain the remainder of his profession, though Christiansen, lately put in as head coach, left open the door for a transfer again to receiver in 1965.

He requested Johnson immediately: “Do you need to play offense, or do you need to play protection?”

Johnson made the selection in the identical method he made many others over his lifetime – with eager evaluation and self-awareness.

“If he had requested me that 4 years earlier, I’d have absolutely chosen the high-profile offense place,” Johnson instructed an interviewer, “however these first 4 years had given me an perception on what protection was all about, and the pure undeniable fact that I knew that I may have an extended profession as a defensive participant than an offensive participant.

“So, I checked in on the left nook and spent the remainder of my profession toiling to be the perfect I could possibly be.”

Johnson quickly can be considered the most effective man-to-man corners within the historical past of the Nationwide Soccer League. He completed his 16-year NFL profession with 213 video games performed, a workforce file till future Corridor of Famer JERRY RICE surpassed it a quarter-century later. His 47 interceptions stood because the workforce file till one other future Corridor of Famer, RONNIE LOTT with 51, pushed Johnson down a slot.

Contemporaries stated Johnson may have recorded dozens of extra interceptions, apart from one small element: Quarterbacks stopped throwing in his course.

“Jim would not obtain a lot publicity as a result of the opposition avoids him as a lot as doable,” teammate John Brodie stated. “Speak to veteran quarterbacks like JOHN UNITAS and BART STARR, they usually’ll inform you they name few move patterns in Jimmy’s space. The one cause Johnson would not lead the league in interceptions is he would not get the prospect.” 

Dick Nolan, who succeeded Christensen because the 49ers’ head coach, was one other huge Johnson fan.

“I coached three defensive backs I felt had been nice: MEL RENFRO and Cornell Inexperienced with the Dallas Cowboys and Johnson,” Nolan stated. “Jimmy is the perfect I’ve ever seen.” 

Corridor of Fame humility

One among Johnson’s 49ers defensive backfield teammates, Kermit Alexander, was equally laudatory.

“He is one of the phenomenal athletes I’ve ever seen,” stated Alexander, who performed one season with Johnson at UCLA and 7 years with the 49ers. “There are such a lot of issues he can do. He is an especially managed individual and really, very proficient. In the entire time we performed collectively, I by no means noticed him lose his cool, on or off the sector. The explanation his honors had been so late in coming was that he by no means beat the drums for himself.”

Johnson, in truth, had been eligible 14 years earlier than being elected to the Professional Soccer Corridor of Fame regardless of a resumé that included four-time first-team All-Professional nods, choice to 5 Professional Bowls and a spot on the NFL’s All-Decade Staff of the Nineteen Seventies.
“Jim is among the finest corners in professional soccer,” Corridor of Fame receiver FRED BILETNIKOFF of the Oakland Raiders as soon as stated in reward. “I simply hope he makes a mistake of some type so I can get a bonus.”

Johnson shared a mutual respect for the huge receivers he confronted week in and week out.

“I do not have a look at somebody and suppose that he cannot beat me,” Johnson stated. “When you play lengthy sufficient, you are going to get beat. The query and the important thing to your effectiveness is how usually.”

Johnson intercepted no less than one move in every season of his NFL profession – besides 1962, when he performed offense completely. His single-season excessive got here in 1965 (six); he picked off 5 passes in 1969 to match the quantity from his rookie season.

In 1971, Johnson gained the George Halas Award, given by the Professional Soccer Writers Affiliation, for brave play after competing within the remaining half of the season with one other damaged wrist. From 1970 by way of 1972, Johnson was a first-team All-Professional and helped the 49ers to a pair of NFC title video games, each losses to the Dallas Cowboys.

Teammates chosen Johnson to obtain the Len Eshmont Award because the workforce’s “most inspirational participant” for each the 1965 and the 1975 seasons.

Johnson deliberate to retire after the 1975 season, his fifteenth within the league, however Monte Clark, a former highschool teammate and shut buddy, took the 49ers’ head teaching job heading into the 1976 season. Johnson agreed to play yet another yr as a favor to Clark, beginning 13 video games for a workforce that completed 8-6 and second within the NFC West.

Just one yr later, the workforce retired his jersey at “Jimmy Johnson Night time at Candlestick Park.”

“Jimmy Johnson has not solely been an important soccer participant, he has been one of many sport’s best residents all through his profession,” stated Joe Thomas, the 49ers’ normal supervisor. “There is no such thing as a one within the NFL who doesn’t have the best respect for him, each as a participant and as a person.”

Introducing his brother for enshrinement into the Professional Soccer Corridor of Fame, Rafer Johnson stated: “Jimmy is a quiet man, however he performed with willpower and dedication. Most of all, Jim was and is a mild man and a real gentleman.”

Along with his election to the Professional Soccer Corridor of Fame, Johnson is a member of the Fresno Athletic Corridor of Fame (1978), Bay Space Sports activities Corridor of Fame (1990), UCLA Athletics Corridor of Fame (1992) and a constitution member of the San Francisco 49ers Corridor of Fame (2009).

His legacy shall be preserved without end in Canton, Ohio.

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