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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 at present is celebrating the profession of JIMMY JOHNSON, a flexible and gifted all-around athlete who grew to become 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 residence. He had remained within the San Francisco space after his profession and had been in declining well being for a while, his household mentioned.

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

“Solely not often 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 grew to become a gifted all-around athlete and group chief who was named captain of his highschool’s soccer, baseball and basketball groups. He additionally ran observe.

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 residence – “Youthful brothers at all times need to be like their older brothers,” he as soon as mentioned – however he additionally noticed its drawbacks.

“I’ve acquired one other brother who dropped out of sports activities as a result of he acquired uninterested in having individuals inform him to comply with 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 group sport he loved.

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

“I performed loads of soccer, possibly not as a lot as I wished to,” he mentioned. “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 meant to play him on offense.

Harm creates alternative

Johnson dislocated his wrist whereas working towards for the annual Faculty All-Star Recreation, 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 group – and had gained distinction as a positive tackler.

“He is an actual good one. Mark my phrases. He’ll be round for some time,” mentioned JACK CHRISTIANSEN, at the moment a 49ers assistant only some 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 group file.

Johnson started the 1963 season at huge receiver, however a skinny secondary pressured 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, just lately put in as head coach, left open the door for a transfer again to receiver in 1965.

He requested Johnson instantly: “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 might have certainly chosen the high-profile offense place,” Johnson advised an interviewer, “however these first 4 years had given me an perception on what protection was all about, and the pure indisputable 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 most effective I may very well be.”

Johnson quickly can be considered top-of-the-line 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 group file till future Corridor of Famer JERRY RICE surpassed it a quarter-century later. His 47 interceptions stood because the group file till one other future Corridor of Famer, RONNIE LOTT with 51, pushed Johnson down a slot.

Contemporaries mentioned Johnson may have recorded dozens of further 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 potential,” teammate John Brodie mentioned. “Discuss 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 motive 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 mentioned. “Jimmy is the most effective I’ve ever seen.” 

Corridor of Fame humility

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

“He is one of the phenomenal athletes I’ve ever seen,” mentioned 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 particular person 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 actual fact, 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 likely one of the greatest corners in professional soccer,” Corridor of Fame receiver FRED BILETNIKOFF of the Oakland Raiders as soon as mentioned in reward. “I simply hope he makes a mistake of some kind 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 take a look at somebody and suppose that he cannot beat me,” Johnson mentioned. “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 at the very least 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 means 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 group’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 another 12 months as a favor to Clark, beginning 13 video games for a group that completed 8-6 and second within the NFC West.

Just one 12 months later, the group retired his jersey at “Jimmy Johnson Evening at Candlestick Park.”

“Jimmy Johnson has not solely been an incredible soccer participant, he has been one of many sport’s most interesting residents all through his profession,” mentioned Joe Thomas, the 49ers’ normal supervisor. “There isn’t a one within the NFL who doesn’t have the very 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 mentioned: “Jimmy is a quiet man, however he performed with dedication 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 eternally in Canton, Ohio.

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