John Henry Johnson

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John Henry Johnson
refer to caption
Johnson in 1987
No. 35
Position: Fullback, halfback
Personal information
Date of birth: (1929-11-24)November 24, 1929
Place of birth: Waterproof, Louisiana
Date of death: June 3, 2011(2011-06-03) (aged 81)
Place of death: Tracy, California
Career information
High school: Pittsburg (CA)
College: Arizona State
St. Mary's (CA)
NFL draft: 1953 / Round: 2 / Pick: 18
Career history
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Rushing yards: 6,803
Average: 4.3
Touchdowns: 48
Player stats at

John Henry Johnson (November 24, 1929 – June 3, 2011)[1] was an American football running back and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.[2]

Selected in the second round of the 1953 NFL draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers,[3] Johnson played one season in Canada with the Calgary Stampeders of the Western Interprovincial Football Union in 1953,[4] then 13 seasons back in the United States. He played a dozen seasons in the National Football League (NFL) with the San Francisco 49ers (195456), Detroit Lions (195759), and Pittsburgh Steelers (196065). After playing out his option, he played his final season in 1966 with the Houston Oilers of the American Football League (AFL).

College football[edit]

Johnson was a native of Waterproof in southern Tensas Parish in northeastern Louisiana. He played high school football in northern California at Pittsburg High School, and college football career at Saint Mary's College of California in Moraga and Arizona State College in Tempe.[4][5] He was also a member of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity.

Professional career[edit]

Johnson is best remembered for being a member of the 49ers famed "Million Dollar Backfield". Upon his retirement, John was ranked fourth on pro football's all-time rushing list, behind only Jim Brown, Jim Taylor and his fellow "Million Dollar Backfield" teammate Joe Perry. He is also still currently ranked fourth on the all-time Steelers rushing list, behind only Franco Harris, Jerome Bettis, and Willie Parker. In 1987, he was selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame,[6] and chose Steelers' owner Art Rooney (1901–88) as his presenter.[7] The 49ers "Million Dollar Backfield" is currently the only full-house backfield to have all four of its members enshrined in the Hall of Fame. In his first season with Detroit in 1957, the Lions won the NFL championship.

A talented runner, Johnson was also very skilled in blocking and on defense.[2][8][9]


Johnson died at age 81 in 2011 in Tracy, California.[10] Several days later, it was announced that Johnson and his fellow "Million Dollar Backfield" teammate, Joe Perry (1927–2011), who died six weeks earlier, would have their brains examined by researchers at Boston University, who are studying head injuries in sports. Both men were suspected of suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a disorder linked to repeated brain trauma. According to his daughter, Johnson could not talk or swallow in the final year of his life and also was in a wheelchair. She told the San Francisco Chronicle that she hoped by donating her father's brain, it would "help with a cure."[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Steve Corkran (June 3, 2011). "Former 49ers star John Henry Johnson dies". San Jose Mercury News. 
  2. ^ a b Bouchette, Ed (August 7, 1987). "John Henry was a steel-drivin' man". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. p. 17. 
  3. ^ Jordan, Jimmy (April 12, 1960). "Steelers finally get John Henry Johnson". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. p. 19. 
  4. ^ a b Sell, Jack (December 2, 1953). "Steelers lose No. 2 draft choice to Frisco team". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. p. 20. 
  5. ^ "Former Tempe football star scores in Canada". Prescott Evening Courier (Arizona). Associated Press. September 21, 1953. p. 5. 
  6. ^ Melvin, Chuck (August 9, 1987). "Pro football's hall of fame inducts seven". The Day (New London, Connecticut). Associated Press. p. E5. 
  7. ^ Bouchette, Ed (August 6, 1987). "Ceremonial chief". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. p. 12. 
  8. ^ Swauger, Kirk (October 14, 1984). "John Henry: the perfect NFL fullback". Beaver County Times (Pennsylvania). p. C2. 
  9. ^ Murray, Jim (February 11, 1970). "Johnson seeks coaching job". Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Virginia). (Los Angeles Times). p. 13. 
  10. ^ Richard Goldstein (June 5, 2011). "John Henry Johnson Dies at 81; Inspired Fear on the Field". The New York Times. 
  11. ^ "Researchers to study 49ers RBs". ESPN. June 9, 2011. Retrieved January 28, 2016. 

External links[edit]