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Gary "Big Hands" Johnson

  (Redirected from Gary Johnson (American football))

Gary Lynn "Big Hands" Johnson (August 31, 1952 – August 4, 2010) was an American football player in the National Football League (NFL). The defensive tackle was a three-time All-Pro and a four-time Pro Bowl selection. He played the majority of his NFL career with the San Diego Chargers, and he was inducted into the Chargers Hall of Fame.

Gary Johnson
Gary Johnson San Diego Chargers.jpg
No. 79, 97
Position:Defensive tackle
Personal information
Born:(1952-08-31)August 31, 1952
Shreveport, Louisiana
Died:August 4, 2010(2010-08-04) (aged 57)
Shreveport, Louisiana
Height:6 ft 2 in (1.88 m)
Weight:257 lb (117 kg)
Career information
High school:Charlotte Mitchell High School
NFL Draft:1975 / Round: 1 / Pick: 8
Career history
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Games played:157
Player stats at
Player stats at PFR

Johnson played college football for the Grambling State Tigers. He was drafted by San Diego in the 1975 NFL Draft in the first round with the eighth overall pick. Johnson was named to the NFL All-Rookie team in his first season. The Chargers won three consecutive division titles from 1979 through 1981. Their defense led the league in sacks in 1980 behind Johnson's team-record ​17 12 sacks. In 1984, Johnson was traded to the San Francisco 49ers, and he won a Super Bowl with the team that season. Johnson retired after the 49ers season in 1985.

He is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, and was named to both the Chargers' 40th and 50th anniversary teams.

Early lifeEdit

Johnson was born in Shreveport, Louisiana and grew up in Bossier City.[1] When Johnson was in the eighth grade, he wanted to pick up a basketball in his physical education class when his coach said, "Get your big hands off my basketball." The nickname "Big Hands" was born.[2] He played football at Charlotte Mitchell High School, and later played college football at Grambling State University for their Tigers football team.[1]

NFL careerEdit

Johnson was drafted in the 1st round with the 8th overall pick by the Chargers in 1975 and was named to the NFL All-Rookie team. In 1980 Johnson teamed with fellow 1975 Chargers' draftees Fred Dean and Louie Kelcher as the Chargers led the NFL in sacks (60).[3] That year Johnson led the NFL with 17½ sacks, which is still a Chargers' team record. He broke Steve DeLong's mark of 17 in 1969.[4] Johnson and Dean were named 1st-team All-Pro, with Kelcher being named 2nd-team All-Pro. The trio, along with Leroy Jones formed a defensive frontline that was locally nicknamed the Bruise Brothers.[5][6]

Johnson again was named 1st team All-Pro in 1981, and was 2nd team All-Pro in 1982. He was on Pro Bowl teams from 1980 to 1983. Don "Air" Coryell's Chargers teams of that era are mostly remembered for its high-scoring, pass-oriented offense. The Chargers won the AFC West from 1979 to 1981 and made the playoffs in 1982.

Johnson was re-united with Dean, Kelcher and Billy Shields on the San Francisco 49ers, and together they won Super Bowl XIX. Sports Illustrated called Johnson the Super Bowl's "unofficial defensive MVP" after he recorded one sack, flushed Miami quarterback Dan Marino out of the pocket numerous times, and had four unassisted tackles.[7] Johnson retired after the 1985 season.

In 1991, Johnson was inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. In 1997, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. In 1999, he was inducted into the San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame. He is a member of both the Chargers 40th and 50th anniversary teams.


Johnson suffered a stroke on July 20, 2010, and died on August 4 in his hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana.[8]


  1. ^ a b "Gary "Big Hands" Johnson". Archived from the original on December 18, 2015.
  2. ^ Jerry Magee (February 12, 2007). "You gotta hand it to legendary Johnson". The San Diego Union Tribune. Archived from the original on July 6, 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-23.
  3. ^ Moore, David Leon (January 9, 1981). "Chargers' rush is in good hands". The Sun. San Bernardino, Calif. pp. C-1, C-3. Retrieved May 9, 2015 – via 
  4. ^ Smith, Rick (1981). 1981 San Diego Chargers Facts Book. San Diego Chargers. p. 41.
  5. ^ "Grambling State University Loses Two Football Legends". Fox Sports Interactive Media, LLC. August 11, 2010. Archived from the original on August 19, 2010.
  6. ^ "No. 16: Chargers' best draft class". March 28, 2009. Retrieved May 27, 2011. The 2001 class was good, but the 1975 class ranks the best. San Diego had four of the first 33 picks in the draft, and the Chargers selected three defensive linemen that would form the nucleus of "The Bruise Brothers" and once formed three-fourths of the AFC Pro Bowl defensive line.(subscription required)
  7. ^ Zimmerman, Paul (January 28, 1985). "The Niners Were Never Finer". Sports Illustrated. Archived from the original on October 20, 2012.
  8. ^ Nick Canepa (August 4, 2010). "Gary 'Big Hands' Johnson dead at 57". The San Diego Union-Tribune. Archived from the original on 2011-03-22. Retrieved 2010-08-04.

External linksEdit