John Henry Johnson Pittsburgh Steelers & San Francisco 49ers & Houston Oilers & Detroit Lions
"There’s far more to playing fullback than just running with the football. Everybody wants to run with the ball, that’s the quickest way to get the headlines and lot of newspaper space. But how many times does a back peel off a long run by himself? I’ll tell you – absolutely none.”
John Henry Johnson, a 6-2, 210-pound workhorse running back, spent 12 years in the National Football League with the San Francisco 49ers, Detroit Lions and Pittsburgh Steelers and a 13th season in the American Football League with the Houston Oilers.
When he retired after the 1966 season, his 6,803 career rushing yards ranked him behind only Jim Brown, Jim Taylor, and Joe Perry as the top ground gainers of all time. Johnson also was an excellent pass receiver with 186 receptions for 1,478 yards. He scored 330 points on 55 touchdowns in his career.
A standout collegian at St. Mary's until that school discontinued football and then at Arizona State, John Henry was a 1953 second-round draft pick of the Steelers. He first opted to play in Canada but after one season at Calgary, he returned to the United States to start his NFL career with the 49ers. He was an immediate sensation, finishing second in the league in rushing with 681 yards and a 5.3-yard average.
For the next two years, he was an integral part of the "Million Dollar Backfield” that included future Hall of Famers Hugh McElhenny, Y. A. Tittle, and Perry. Johnson was traded to Detroit in 1957 and then to Pittsburgh in 1960.
It was with the Steelers that John Henry enjoyed his finest seasons. In both 1962 and 1964, he broke the 1,000-yard rushing barrier, the first Steeler to achieve that lofty level. It was with the Lions, however, that he participated in his only NFL title game, the 1957 contest that saw Detroit overwhelm the Cleveland Browns, 59-14. Johnson was a key figure in the Lions’ title drive that year and wound up as the club's leading rusher with 621 yards. Johnson was selected to play in the 1955, 1963, 1964, and 1965 Pro Bowl Games.