John Henry Johnson

by Bill Scholl, the Cleveland Press

John Henry Johnson's doing right well for an old football codger who celebrated his 33rd birthday yesterday.

In fact, JHJ never before experienced a season as good as the current one. And he's gone through a lot of seasons since bidding so-long to Arizona State in 1953.

Wide World Photo of John Henry Johnson 1961Johnson is pushing the 1,000-yard figure this autumn and is the only National Football League ball carrier still close enough to see Jim Taylor's dust. Johnson doesn't figure to overtake the Green Bay Buster, but don't bet against him for second place in the final standings.

The Steelers actually made the original draft of Johnson. But seven years elapsed before he put on the club's gold and black colours for the first time.

Johnson spurned the NFL at the outset and instead hooked up with the Calgary Stampeders in the Canadian League. The NFL rights to the promising runner were transferred to the San Francisco 49ers and he joined them in '54.

Johnson had a good first year with 681 yards rushing, 183 pass catching and nine touchdowns. Then injuries struck and he ran into two lean seasons. The 49ers finally traded him to Detroit in 1957.

JHJ promptly duplicated his freshman boom with the Lions and came up with 621 yards rushing, 141 passing and five touchdowns. Then he tailed off again for two years and was shipped along to Pittsburgh in the spring of 1960 for a mere draft choice.    

Johnson made his usual good start with a new team only this time there was a switch. Instead of faltering last year, he did even better.

Even so, Coach Buddy Parker wondered how much more mileage he could get out of ol' John Henry and when the league draft was held at Chicago last December the Steelers' first choice was Bob Ferguson, the All-American from Ohio State.

Parker made the selection even though there was strong indication that the San Diego Chargers, who had drafted a week or so earlier, had Ferguson fairly well locked up.

It's probably little comfort to Ferguson, who did sign with Pittsburgh and has spent his freshman year on the bench, but his acquisition served as a brand new shot in the arm for Johnson.

0l’ JHJ weeks ago wiped out the club record of 787 yards he set last year and with a career total of something like 4,500 yards he's closing in on the five all-time rushers in NFL history.

Johnson is the kingpin of the Steelers' offense. Parker insists the offensive line is better suited to 'blocking than pass protecting, so with Johnson and halfback Joe Womack both going well the emphasis has been on running.

Bobby Layne blends in some passing at opportune moments and steps up the aerial tempo only when Pittsburgh falls behind and tries to play catch-up.

Johnson gained 94 yards and averaged close to six yards a crack in the first game against the Browns three weeks ago. He also fumbled the ball away twice in the first quarter to help put Pittsburgh in a hole it never really got out of all afternoon.

The Browns aren't counting on of John Henry being that obliging again today.

Article from NFL Illustrated for the November 25, 1962 programme for the Steelers game in Cleveland that the Steelers lost 14-35.

Ed’s note: At the end of the year, Johnson was third in rushing (to Taylor) with 1141 yards on 251 attempts for an average of 4.5 yards a carry. He scored 7 touchdowns. Cleveland’s Jim Brown was 145 yards behind in fourth spot.

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