Honor the Heroes of the Game, Preserve Its History, Promote Its Values & Celebrate Excellence Everywhere
"I don’t look at someone and think that he can’t beat me. If you play long enough, you’re going to get beat. The question and the key to your effectiveness is how often.”
(UCLA)...6'2'', 187...James Earl Johnson. . .49ers' No. 1 draft pick, 1961. . . Played on offense, at safety before moving to cornerback permanently, 1963. . . Blessed with outstanding speed, leaping ability. . .Named All-Pro four times. . .Selected to five Pro Bowls. . .Career record: 47 interceptions, 615 yards (both were 49ers records). . .Opposition passers avoided throwing in his area. . .Played in two NFC title games. . .Born March 31, 1938, in Dallas, Texas.
Jimmy Johnson, a 6-2, 187-pound two-way star from UCLA, was the first of three first-round draft choices of the San Francisco 49ers in 1961. The brother of former world decathlon champion Rafer Johnson, Jimmy played wingback on offense and as a defensive back at UCLA. He also was an outstanding track star, a 13.9-second high hurdler and a 25-foot broad jumper.
The 49ers tried Johnson as a defensive back as a rookie, moved him to the offensive unit in his second season and then back to the defensive unit to stay in his third season in 1963. Johnson, who was born March 31, 1938, in Dallas, Texas, intercepted five passes in his rookie season but also did well with 34 receptions for 627 yards and four touchdowns as an offensive receiver in 1962.
He played a year at safety in 1963 and then moved to the left cornerback spot for the remainder of his 16-season career, which was concluded after the 1976 season. He played in 213 games, more than any other 49er at the time of his retirement.
Recognized as one of the best man-to-man defenders in history, Johnson's reputation was so great that opposition quarterbacks threw only rarely into his defensive territory. Still, Johnson intercepted 47 passes and returned them 615 yards.
He had his big moments as a receiver as well, an 80-yard touchdown reception against the Chicago Bears and a 181-yard day vs. Detroit, both in 1962. Johnson was named All-Pro four straight years from 1969 through 1972. He played in three Pro Bowls and missed two others because of injuries.
The former college honor roll student won the Pro Football Writers' George Halas Award for courageous play in 1971 and twice was the winner of the coveted Len Eshmont award given by the 49ers for inspirational play.
Full Name: James Earl Johnson
Birthdate: March 31, 1938
Birthplace: Dallas, Texas
High School: Kingsburg (Calif.)
Elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame: January 29, 1994
Enshrined into Pro Football Hall of Fame: July 30, 1994
Presenter: Rafer Johnson, Jimmy's brother and decathlon gold medalist, 1960 Olympics
Other Members of Class of 1994: Tony Dorsett, Bud Grant, Leroy Kelly, Jackie Smith, Randy White
Pro Career: 16 seasons, 213 games
Drafted: 1st round (6th player overall) in 1961 by San Francisco 49ers
Uniform Number: 37
Jimmy Johnson Enshrinement Speech 1994
Presenter: Rafer Johnson
What a great day for the 1994 Hall of Fame enshrinees, for all the great members of the Hall of Fame, honored guests, ladies and gentlemen and what a great day for Jimmy Johnson. I only wish that Louis and Alma Johnson could be here, his father and mother, to share in this wonderful moment for Jimmy. Jim and I often shared his dream. We often talked about his dream as we grew up and thought about what great tomorrows would bring. It was simple: He wanted to play his game to the best of his ability. I stand before you today, before our mom and dad, all of Jimmy's family, friends from his hometown of Kingsburg, California, who had such a great impact on his life.
His teammates from UCLA, his teammates from the San Francisco 49er years, I stand here before you today to let you all know you can be proud. For on this day and his induction into the Football Hall of Fame, it is now cut in stone forever: Jim Johnson was, in fact, the best that he could be. Jimmy always led by example. In Kingsburg High School, where he lettered and played football, basketball and where he ran track; at UCLA, where he played football, captain of the UCLA track team and was the NC two-way high hurdle champion in 1960; with the San Francisco 49ers, he was their first draft choice in 1960. He played both offense and defense in those early years, finally settling on defense, where he made All-Pro for five years. He won the George Halas Award for his courageous play and at all times lead by example.
Jimmy is a quiet man, but he played with determination and commitment. Most of all, Jim was and is a gentle man and a true gentleman. Ladies and gentlemen, I am truly proud to stand before you today to present to you, on his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a great football player, the son of Louis and Elma Johnson and my brother: Jim Johnson.
Thank you very much, Ray. Thank you ladies and gentlemen, dignitaries, and thanks to the Hall of Fame corner off to my right. I would like to start my speech today by acknowledging the family who have come out to enjoy this great occasion, for the friends that have flown and driven across the country to enjoy this great occasion and for the fans that have stuck behind myself and the San Francisco 49ers over the many years that I participated in the 49er organization. That was 16 long years of competition for the San Francisco 49ers, and early on in those days the 49ers didn't win many games, and so I was really appreciative and became very knowledgeable of what fans really meant. I would like to introduce my wife, Gisela Johnson, and my daughter Jameen. And you have just meant my presenter and my hero, Rafer Johnson, and I would like you to meet his wife, Betsy, his daughter Jennifer and his son Josh.
I would also like to introduce my brother Eddie Johnson. Eddie has been very inspirational in my life also, although he has stayed in the background. Eddie was a fantastic athlete in his own right and basically taught me how to handle having a famous brother like Rafer Johnson. I would also like to introduce my brother's finance, Charlene. I have two wonderful sisters in the audience to come back and share this wonderful honor and I want to acknowledge them: my lovely sister Delores and my lovely sister Erma. And I would also like to acknowledge Erma's son, who is also here today, Brian. That is my family, and I am proud to say I have a great deal of many friends who, like I said, have flown and driven across country from the lovely little town of Kingsburg, California, where I grew up and which gave me a home and an identity in reference to where I had come from.
We had a group led by Monte Clark, former San Francisco 49er coach, who brought out a wonderful group of individuals who I went to high school with, and I just want them to know how much I appreciate their presence here today. And there is one other special individual who has come out from California to take part in this recognition that I am getting today, and this man took me under his wing when I first got to Kingsburg High School. I couldn't have weighed more than 75 pounds soaking wet, so my first two years of junior varsity football I got to know and love Coach Leslie Ratslaff, and I would like to introduce the coach and his wife.
That very first year of my junior varsity competition under Coach Les Ratslaff and I learned all the X's and O's and all the fundamentals of football by Coach Les. He taught me how to be proud when I was a winner and how to be humble when we came up on the short end. I worked real hard for Coach Ratslaff, but unfortunately early in that very first season I got bumped around quite a bit, whirlybird left and right a little bit, and at the end of one of those early games, I came up with a tremendous stomach cramp and it hurt. That was a Friday night game and I had pains throughout Saturday, throughout Sunday, went to school on Monday had to be sent home, and on Monday evening I went into the Kingsburg hospital for a checkup and found that I had to have an operation. I had to have an appendectomy. I had the operation, convalesced for a very short time and came back to the team. And this is where I think I learned the biggest lesson in the game of football and the game of sports. Coach Ratslaff asked me to be his manager, and at first I turned him down because I wanted to be a football hero, a high school standout, and I didn't accept. But after talking to Coach Ratslaff a couple of days, I really saw the picture he wanted to give me. He was giving me the opportunity to get another view of the game of football, and once I saw this, I accepted his offer to be co-manager of the 1954 Kingsburg High School junior varsity football team.
Coach Ratslaff explained to me that I could be just as important to this team by being there and showing my leadership and doing all things that managers do and within the scope of that year through this small window of opportunity presented by Coach Ratslaff I really learned how to love the game of football. I worked real hard. I wanted to play, but I knew that I couldn't, so by being away from the game of football for one year, I came back with a vengeance as a sophomore at Kingsburg High School. I came back to make up for all the time I lost by missing that one year, and I decided at that particular point in time that I would not be denied no matter what the odds.
And for sure throughout my career I've been confronted with many situations that it didn't look like I could fight my way through, but that first year gave me an opportunity to look at football and decide why I really wanted to play it, and I decided I was going to play the game of football because I loved it. I loved it with a vengeance. That's the way I approached the remainder of my football career. I never entered a game with fear in my heart because I knew I had the talents to shut down anybody that was across the line from me, and I gained that from Coach Ratslaff and my brother Rafer Johnson.
In the second two years of my high school career, I worked under a coach by the name of Charlie Moore, who had an assistant by the name of Charlie Jenkins, and I had picked up a love for the game of football from Coach Les Ratslaff, but Coach Charlie Moore gave me the second ingredient that I needed to complete the puzzle. When I first started playing for Coach Charlie Moore, I started out as a second-string left halfback, which was a very uncomfortable position for me to be in because in my heart, I knew I was a first-string football player. Coach Moore got me to the side, and he explained to me that first of all you gotta continue to work hard and be prepared. Be ready when your opportunity would arise. He taught me a sense of patience. Be patient and work hard and you will get whatever you desire from football or the game of sports. So, these two coaches, the first two individuals in my life in organized football -- one taught me how to love the game of football and one taught me a sense of patience. And those two ingredients I have lived by throughout my entire career. Believe me, I needed those two ingredients to get through a lot of the years.
I went to UCLA, I played both offense and defense for Coach Billy Barnes and his coaching staff. Following my three years there, I went to the San Francisco 49ers as their No. 1 draft pick and came in as a player that was supposed to play offense but having a coaching staff that knew very well, I had talents on the other side of the ball.
In preparation for the College All-Star Game, I had an unfortunate accident. Actually, it wasn't an accident it was out-and-out mayhem. I got blindsided by a very close friend, Albert Kimbrough, and it broke my arm and dislocated my left wrist. So when I came into my first year as a professional, I couldn't be a wide receiver like they had drafted me, so I convalesced and my arm got better and they put me over on defense the latter part of the year just to get some work in. I think I knocked down more passes that year with that cast on my arm then I intercepted. In fact, one of my former teammates, Eddie Dove, said to me, ''Jimmy, if you get close to me, keep that cast outta the way. You are not going to win more interceptions than you can shake a stick at.'' My career with the San Francisco 49ers progressed kind of like a jack of all trades for about four years. I played offense one year, then the next year I would play defense. The next year, I would go back to offense; the next, I would go back to defense. I am very thankful that in the fifth year of my career, Jack Christiansen, who became head coach gave me a choice: ''Do you want to play offense, or do you want to play defense?'' If he had asked me that four years earlier, I would have surely chosen the high-profile offense position, but those first four years had given me an insight on what defense was all about and the pure fact that I knew that I could have a longer career as a defensive player than an offensive player.
So, I checked in at the left corner and spent the rest of my career toiling to be the best I could be. One of those hurdles that I had to get over was a sense of patience -- the fact that I became so proficient at the left corner that the game plan called for no passes to my side. I would get on the average of three to four passes a game thrown to my side, and I regulated the reason for that: They wanted to make sure I was keeping my head in the game. So therefore, I had to create situations to stay in the flow of the game. The way I did that was to get in the best shape that I could possibly get in every year. I watched reels and reels of film. I read computer readouts until they came out of my ears, so that I knew exactly what the offensive ends were going to do or try to do or that they could do. and I learned to read linemen, running backs and anything else that moved upon the field. So that I could pick up keys that would allow me to release my decoy pattern a step before I might have. By doing that, I was able to get to distance part of the field that normally I would not have. So, I had a 16-year career, four on offense and the rest on defense. Toiling in a situation, trying to be the best that I could be, but in my mind knowing the only way you can be the best that you could be is by repetition, repetition.
You have to be worked on, cornered in and cornered out to become as good as you can be. So actually feel standing here today that I never reached that level, I never reached as good a football player as I could be, but thanks to God and inner talent I was able to present a picture to those individuals who were voting for the Hall of Fame and my longevity and the level of game that I played from my rookie season to my last. That on this wondrous year of 1994 I've been given the opportunity, the glorious opportunity, to become a member of the most wonderful society: The National Football League Hall of Fame.
There are several people that I would like to thank at this time that have been with me over the years. I would like to thank all the coaches. Coach Les Ratslaff, Charlie Moore, Charlie Jenkins, Billy Barnes and his coaching staff, Red Hickey and his crew, Jack Christiansen and his crew, Dick Nolan and his crew, Monte Clark and his crew. All of those coaches played a very integral part in the individual that is standing before you today.
I would also like to say thank you to all the reporters that over the years have cast a vote for me in the National Football League Hall of Fame vote and kept my name alive 17-plus years up until this year. I'd like to single one of those individuals out who has basically been carrying my flag for many years, and the reason I know that is that every time he writes an article, if I don't run onto it myself someone will find it and send it to me. So, this gentleman has been my flag bearer for 17-plus years and I would like to thank him from the bottom of my heart at this particular time. That's Sports Illustrated writer Mr. Paul Zimmerman.
And as I said before, my presenter, Rafer Johnson, is in fact my hero and that is an amazing thing in itself. Most young men growing up usually have a hero in another town, another city, another country and they will write to this individual, receive an autographed photo and then tack that photo up on the wall and worship that photo, play for that photo and get inspiration from that photo. No such problem for me. I had a brother living with me on a day-to-day basis that I was able to talk to, ask the pertinent questions, get the pertinent feedback and get corrected in my direction, if needed. I must say I must give brother Rafer credit for everything that I have accomplished in the field of athletics. And I just wish that we could split this trophy, this bust of myself, right down the middle because he surely deserves half of it.
And in closing, I want to say once again what an extreme pleasure it is for me to be a member of this 1994 class, and I congratulate all of the other members also. I would like to close by dedicating this honor in the memory of my father, Louis Johnson, and my mother, Alma Johnson. For without whose help there would not have been a beginning. Thank you.