Today is a sad day for the NFL.
Jim Johnson, defensive genius and veteran NFL assistant of 22 years, finally succumbed to cancer Tuesday afternoon. He was 68.
"I'm not sure there's a person that I've met that isn't a Jim Johnson fan," said Andy Reid, during the team's official press conference. "He really represented everything this city is all about with his toughness and grit. That's the way he fought this cancer."
Reid's words characterized general sentiment and the sadness felt on this day. He was echoed by Jeffrey Lurie, Roger Goodell, and an assortment of players and colleagues, both past and present.
"I loved Jim Johnson," said Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh, an Eagles assistant for nine seasons with Johnson. "He had a special ability to bring out the best in people while getting you to see the best in yourself. He saw potential and developed it. He made me believe I could coach at this level.
"In football, he was a pioneering and brilliant strategist, changing the way defense is played in the NFL. For me, he was a father-type mentor, and above all, a cherished friend. He belongs in the Hall of Fame. I will miss him so much."
Sometimes one doesn't appreciate what is there until it is gone.
Eagles fans, both old and young alike, took Johnson for granted. The 26 Pro Bowls his players were selected to, the 390 sacks in 10 years—second in the league over this span—spoke volumes, but his ability to communicate with players was his greatest asset.
"He was a tough coach who wasn't afraid to let you know how he was feeling, but at the same time, he cared about us deeply," said former Eagles safety and seven-time Pro Bowler Brian Dawkins.
It is evident that Johnson overshadows his football prowess by the man he really was.
"He was great to work with and for, and he had his priorities in order," said New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin. "His players loved to play for him and his coaches loved to coach with him."
As a coach and as a person, Johnson was admired from afar. To quote a few (from ESPN):
"Even though I'm a Cowboys fan, I have plenty of respect for Jim Johnson. His blitzing schemes caused havoc in the NFC east for many years...I give my condolences to his family." -tedchennault
"As a Redskins fan, I am sorry to hear of Jim Johnson's passing. He was a great coach and always made the Eagles' D an extremely tough one to play. My thoughts are with his family and all who played for and worked with him in Philadelphia and everywhere else he coached." -Rudybux45
Particularly in Philadelphia, where Jim Johnson adds to a list of beloved sports names who have recently passed away (Harry Kalas, Gary Papa), fans are aroused in a spirit of shared empathy. Jim Johnson, an excellent man, a beloved figure in Philadelphia sports, has passed away.
Jim Johnson, thanks for the memories. We will miss you.
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