NFL Mourns Loss of Hall of Famer Jimmy Johnson as Namesake Coach Clarifies He's Still Alive

Jimmy Johnson, a legendary defensive back who played 16 seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, has died at 86. Johnson was a four-time Pro Bowl selection and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, known for his athletic talent and sportsmanship.

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Bijay Laxmi
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NFL Mourns Loss of Hall of Famer Jimmy Johnson as Namesake Coach Clarifies He's Still Alive

NFL Mourns Loss of Hall of Famer Jimmy Johnson as Namesake Coach Clarifies He's Still Alive

The NFL community is mourning the loss of Jimmy Johnson, a legendary defensive back who played his entire 16-year career with the San Francisco 49ers. Johnson passed away on Wednesday evening at the age of 86, his family announced, stating that he had been in declining health for some time.

Johnson, enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994, competed in 213 games from 1961 to 1976, a franchise record at the time that was later broken by Jerry Rice. He recorded 47 interceptions, a team mark later surpassed by Ronnie Lott. The original cornerback was selected to the Pro Bowl for four straight seasons (1969-1972) and again in 1974. Johnson was also a first-team All-Pro from 1970 to 1972 and was selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame's All-Decade Team of the 1970s.

Pro Football Hall of Fame President Jim Porter paid tribute to Johnson, saying, "Jimmy Johnson was extraordinarily athletically talented... The notion that a 'lockdown' cornerback could cut the field in half for the opposition was true with Jimmy." Johnson himself once remarked, "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."

"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," said Johnson's brother, Olympic gold medal-winning decathlete Rafer Johnson, introducing him at his Hall of Fame enshrinement. Joe Thomas, the 49ers' vice president and general manager at the time, also praised Johnson: "Jimmy Johnson has not only been a great football player, he has been one of the game's finest citizens throughout his career... There is no one in the NFL who does not have the highest respect for him, both as a player and as a man."

Before his NFL career, Johnson was a football star at UCLA and a track standout in hurdles and long jump. He played halfback and flanker for the Bruins in 1962 and 1963, catching 40 passes for 690 yards and four touchdowns. San Francisco selected him as one of its three first-round draft choices (sixth overall) in 1961.

During his playing days, Johnson won the Pro Football Writers' George Halas Award for courageous play in 1971 and twice received the Len Eshmont Award for inspirational play. His legacy extends beyond the gridiron, as he was known for his character and sportsmanship.

As news of Johnson's death and name spread, some fans initially confused him with another NFL icon, Jimmy Johnson, the former head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. The 80-year-old coach, who is still alive, took to social media to clarify the situation and pay his respects to the late cornerback. "Jimmy Johnson HOF DB from 49ers passed away at age of 86...RIP..Jimmy Johnson HOF from Dallas Cowboys & FOX still kicking..." he posted on X (formerly Twitter).

The two Jimmy Johnsons, while sharing the same name, had distinct careers and legacies in the NFL. The late cornerback was a dominant force on the field for the 49ers, while the coach led the Cowboys to two Super Bowl victories in the 1990s. As the football world mourns the loss of one of its greats, it also celebrates the life and achievements of Jimmy Johnson, a true gentleman and an extraordinary athlete who left an indelible mark on the game.