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Memorable Games from 25 Steelers Legends: No. 21 -- John Henry Johnson

Onward with Michael Uhlhorn's next entry in the (so-far) well received series titled '25 Memorable Games from 25 Steelers Legends'. The premise is to highlight individual games that Steeler Nation will always remember their career by. Not surprisingly, and just as Michael and I had hoped would happen, you all have offered some outstanding additions to the conversation. Our next addition to the list is a larger-than-life figure than some of Steeler Nation's more senior and well-versed fans have written about here on BTSC. I hope one or two of you dig up some old John Henry Johnson gems to share to newer readers that would not know about them. Those would nicely accompany Uhlhorn's own contributions to the legendary running back. 

-Michael B. -


21) John Henry Johnson - Half Back (1960-1965)

John Henry Johnson is a name only a true Steeler fan would know.  Being a running back in the 1960's, and not being named Jim Brown, Johnson has been omitted from many top-100 running backs of all time lists. The fact that he retired as the 4th leading rusher in NFL history, is still the 4th leading rusher in Steelers history, and was a member of "Million Dollar Backfield" in San Francisco, seems to go unnoticed by these analysts.  Oh, and he is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as well, but I digress.

Johnson played for the Steelers from 1960-1965, and though these were still part of the dark years for our beloved franchise, Johnson was one of the few bright spots.  Surpassing 1,000 yards twice in his 5 years, and averaging over 4 yards per-carry, John Henry Johnson was one of the few players in his day that was a threat to score every time he touched the football; and, as the game I'm about to discuss shows, he wasn't only a running back.

John Henry Johnson made the Pro Bowl 4 times (3 as a Steeler), was selected to two All-Pro teams (once as a Steeler), 4th on the Steelers All-Time rushing list, retired as the 4th leading rusher in NFL history (currently 55th), and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987.

Career Game (12/11/1960)

Statistics: 19 rush attempts for 182 yards (a 9.58 yd/rush average) and 1 touchdown; 1 catch for 7 yards and 1 touchdown; 1 pass for 15 yards and 1 touchdown.

On December 11, 1960 and in his first season as a Steeler, John Henry Johnson gave the Philadelphia Eagles a preview of the next 50 years of Steeler dominance in this cross-state rivalry.  Not only did Johnson rush for an astounding 182 yards and 1 touchdown, but he passed for a touchdown, and caught another.  Long before Kordell Stewart or Antwaan Randle El, John Henry Johnson was the prototypical slash-back, and was more than just a great running back.  Sadly, little video exists (if any) of this game, but we can learn enough about his remarkable day by looking through newspapers, and at the box score. 

Rushing in the 1960's wasn't the easiest thing to do, and offenses were usually great if they put up more than two touchdowns a game.  For a running back to rush for 182 yards, and score 3 all-purpose touchdowns in one game was simply amazing (and honestly, would still be incredible today).  Johnson threw a 15 yard touchdown pass, and with no video to prove that it wasn't to himself, I will tell you it was, and finished with a perfect passer rating.  Johnson was so good that day that he averaged nearly a first down per-carry, something only Isaac Redman and King Leonidas from 300 have achieved in NFL history.  (*Note: The end of that sentence isn't true at all).

The Steelers won this game 27-24, with John Henry Johnson nearly outscoring the Eagles by himself.  His best play of the game was an 87-yard scamper for a touchdown that put the Steelers up 20-0 in the second quarter.  The Eagles went 9-2 in 1960 and won their last national title, yet John Henry Johnson dominated them in a game played with an 18 degree wind-chill.  I'm almost glad John Henry Jonson left the Steelers in 1965, because if he had still been a Steeler in 1968, who knows where we would have picked in the 1969 draft.


The Countdown:

No. 25 - Casey Hampton (12/10/2010)
No. 24 - Rocky Bleier (10/26/1975)
No. 23 -- Donnie Shell (09/07/1980)

No. 22 -- Alan Faneca (12/07/2006)