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May 9, 2024 2:59 pm

Pro Football Hall of Fame CB Jimmy Johnson dies at 86

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Pro Football Hall of Famer Jimmy Johnson, a lockdown cornerback who spent his entire 16-year career with the San Francisco 49ers, died on Wednesday evening, his family announced. He was 86.

The Hall of Fame made the announcement Thursday for Johnson’s family, which said he had been in declining health for some time and had remained in the San Francisco area.

Enshrined in 1994, Johnson played from 1961-76 in 213 games — at the time a franchise record later broken by Jerry Rice. Johnson’s 47 interceptions also were a team mark later broken by Ronnie Lott.

“Jimmy Johnson was extraordinarily athletically talented,” Pro Football Hall of Fame President Jim Porter said in a statement. “The 49ers enjoyed the luxury of using him on offense and defense early in his career to fill team needs. Once he settled in at left cornerback, he flourished. The notion that a ‘lockdown’ cornerback could cut the field in half for the opposition was true with Jimmy.

“Only rarely would other teams’ quarterbacks even look his direction, and more often than not regretted the decision if they challenged him.”

Johnson was selected to the Pro Bowl for four straight seasons (1969-72) as well as in 1974. He was first-team All-Pro in 1970, ‘71 and 72. The Pro Football Hall of Fame selected him for the All-Decade Team of the 1970s.

A native of Dallas who moved to California as a youth, Johnson went about his business quietly with respect for his opponents.

“I don’t look at someone and think that he can’t beat me,” Johnson said. “If you play long enough, you’re going to get beat. The question and the key to your effectiveness is how often.”

He also played halfback and flanker in 1962 and 1963, catching 40 passes for 690 yards and four touchdowns.

San Francisco selected him as one of its three first-round draft choices (sixth overall in 1961. He was a football star at UCLA at wingback and defensive back as well as a track standout in hurdles and long jump.

His brother, Olympic gold medal-winning decathlete Rafer Johnson, was his presenter at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony on July 30, 1994.

“Jimmy is a quiet man, but he played with determination and commitment,” Rafer Johnson said. “Most of all, Jim was and is a gentle man and a true gentleman.”

Jimmy Johnson won the Pro Football Writers’ George Halas Award for courageous play in 1971 after playing half of that season with a broken wrist. He twice received the Len Eshmont Award, chosen by 49ers players and given to a teammate for inspirational play.

“Jimmy Johnson has not only been a great football player, he has been one of the game’s finest citizens throughout his career,” Joe Thomas, the team’s vice president and general manager at that time said when the 49ers retired Johnson’s No. 37 jersey in 1977. “There is no one in the NFL who does not have the highest respect for him, both as a player and as a man.”

–Field Level Media

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