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In Memoriam: Jimmy Johnson

While most associate the name "Jimmy Johnson" with the fiery-tempered, uber successful coach of the Dallas Cowboys, there is another whose bust also resides in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Ironically, he played for one of the Cowboys' biggest rivals in an earlier era, the 49ers.

Growing up in Kingsburg, California, a suburb of Fresno, he was always overshadowed by his older brother, Rafer. While Rafer was winning the gold medal in the 1960 Summer Olympics, Jimmy was starring at UCLA as both a wingback and a defensive back while also winning the NCAA 110 hurdles and being named an All-American.

Seeing his speed and athleticism, the San Francisco 49ers picked him sixth over all in the 1961 NFL Draft. Unfortunately for him the 49ers were in the early stages of a long growing period, never even sniffing the playoffs until 1970, his tenth season. By then he had already established himself as one of the best defensive backs in the game, having been named either First or Second-Team All-Pro five times and earning a trip to the Pro Bowl in 1969. He would go on to be named First-Team All-Pro three more times and earn four more trips to the Pro Bowl as the team battled the Cowboys in three straight playoffs, losing each time.

Jimmy Johnson ably showcased his hands throughout his career. Not only did he nab 47 interceptions and return two for touchdowns, but he also lined up as a flanker, catching 34 passes for 627 yards and four touchdowns in 1962. But after catching six passes for 63 yards in 1963 and with his skills as a cornerback maturing, he never again lined up as a flanker in the NFL. From then on, his path to greatness as a ballplayer resided on defense.

Although he was great, he had to wait his turn for his Hall of Fame induction, finally being inducted in 1994 having been retired since 1976. At the time of his retirement, his 213 games played were the most of any 49ers player up until that point. Jimmy Johnson died on May 8, 2024 at the age of 86.

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