The San Francisco 49ers said in a release Saturday that Johnson, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987 after a 14-season NFL career, died in Tracy.
A member of the “Million Dollar Backfield,” Johnson played three seasons for the 49ers (1954-56). A four-time Pro Bowler (1954, 1962-64), Johnson’s 6,803 career yards rushing trailed only Jim Brown, Jim Taylor and former 49er Joe Perry upon his retirement in 1966. Johnson was also a productive receiver, catching 186 passes for 1,478 yards. He scored 55 touchdowns during his career.
Johnson also played one season in the CFL before joining San Francisco.
“I was deeply saddened to hear of John Henry Johnson’s passing,” said 49ers owner John York. “He was a good friend, not only to my family and me, but the entire 49ers organization. As a member of the “Million Dollar Backfield” he holds a cherished place in both 49ers and NFL history. His contributions to the game of football will be forever celebrated.
“Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to the entire Johnson family.”
That acclaimed backfield included three other future Hall of Famers: Perry, Hugh McElhenny and Y.A. Tittle. The group remains the only full-house backfield to have all four of its members enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
Drafted in the second round (18th overall) by the Steelers in 1953, Johnson went to play in the Canadian Football League for one season instead. He then joined San Francisco.
In his rookie year with the 49ers, Johnson ranked second in the league with 681 yards rushing and a 5.3-yard average, scoring nine touchdowns. He finished his three-year stint in San Francisco with 1,051 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns, 279 yards receiving on 38 receptions.
Johnson went on to play for the Detroit Lions (1957-59), Steelers (1960-65) and Houston Oilers (1966) of the American Football League. The Lions won their last NFL title with Johnson on the team in 1957.