National Football Foundation College Football Hall of Fame: Johnnie Johnson
This Saturday when the Longhorns take on the Texas Tech's top-ranked passing offense, one of the most powerful defensive backs and versatile players to step onto the 40 Acres will be on the field as well. However, Johnnie Johnson will not be suiting up, but will be in attendance to be honored as the 14th Longhorn player to be inducted to the National Football Foundation College Football Hall of Fame and the 16th overall inductee for the Horns.
"I think it's kind of interesting we would have this salute on the date we play Texas Tech," Johnson quipped. "It's a day you would hope the defensive backs play very well because you have to against a passing attack like Texas Tech possesses."
Johnson is a two-time consensus All-America defensive back and three-time All-Southwest Conference selection played for the Longhorns from 1976-79. He was also named to the Southwest Conference's All-Decade team for the 1970s.
Before the arrival of the Thorpe Award, honoring the nation's top defensive back, Johnson was honored by the prestigious Downtown Athletic Club as the nation's top defensive back in 1978. He finished his career at UT with 13 interceptions and 282 tackles.
As the best punt returner in college football, Johnson set several UT punt return records that still stand today. Single season punt returns (44), career punt returns (114) and most punt return yards in a single game (131). He ranks second all-time in most punt return yardage in a season (538) and fourth in career return yards (1,004).
Johnson was a first round draft choice of the Los Angeles Rams. He played 10 seasons with the Rams and a season with the Seattle Seahawks.
Being named to the NFF College Football Hall of Fame is an extraordinary accomplishment and Johnson will be the first defensive back from The University of Texas to receive this honor.
"I'm humbled, yet grateful for having the opportunity to have played at The University of Texas," Johnson said. "Of course to have it culminate into the highest honor that can be bestowed on an athlete is simply humbling. I don't know if there are words that can describe it.
"Being the 14th Longhorn player inducted was something enough, but when I found out I was the first defensive back, that blew me away because of all the great defensive backs that have played at The University of Texas during its history."
Playing for a school with such a storied program and being recognized as such creates intense rivalries and even tougher competition. Johnson valued that aspect and looked forward to what the opposition had to bring.
"The thing I appreciated most about playing at UT was the fact that each week it appeared that you were playing against a rival," Johnson remembered. "It's like The University of Texas is everyone's rival and having the opportunity to play week after week against teams that considered Texas to be "the" game on their schedule was probably the thing that I appreciated most about my time at Texas."
As an avid follower of all things sport related for The University, this trip to Austin is not only exciting because of his being honored as an inductee into the College Football Hall of Fame, but it also will mark the first game of the season that Mr. Johnson will be able attend, as well as his first glimpse at the under-construction DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium.
"Well, it's mind boggling to think of how much it has grown since I played there and I think it's a testament to The University and honestly a testament to DeLoss Dodds and the athletic department as they just continue to grow," Johnson stated. "It's a great thing to be an athlete at The University of Texas and that is why this award is so special."
Being an athlete at The University of Texas truly is a great thing and Johnnie Johnson is one of the best to play in the burnt orange. During his time on campus he was a leader on a strong defense and helped pave the way for other great defensive backs.
"I'm honored to be a part of that rich tradition [of defensive backs]," Johnson said. "There were some great DB's long before I played here and I'm just honored to have my name associated with such a great group. You look over the history and it's no wonder The University of Texas is known as "Defensive Back University." It's because each year there appears to be several defensive backs that play at a high level whether it was Aaron Ross last year or Michael Huff the year before. It's great that so many great players have played here."
The University of Texas is lucky to have not only a superb athlete represent it in the College Football Hall of Fame, but also a superb person. After his career in the NFL, he went on as a motivational speaker and author.
"I do executive coaching today," Johnson said. "The way that came about was I had this vision while I was playing pro football of taking the coaching process that we utilize to perform at a high level in sports and making that available to all sectors of society."
Come this weekend, The University of Texas will welcome back one of its most distinguished athletes and honor him for his years of hard work and determination on the football field. And if the Longhorns need any last second motivation, there will be no need to look past the sidelines as one of the greatest will be in attendance rooting on his Horns.