Jim Johnson earned his reputation as a defensive mastermind in the NFL through his aggressive, attacking blitz schemes. Sadly his body could not fend off the aggressive, attacking cancer that claimed his life Tuesday afternoon.
Johnson, 68, had been the Eagles defensive coordinator since 1999. During his tenure the Eagles ranked second in sacks (390) and produced 26 Pro Bowl defenders. Last season the team finished third in the NFL in total defense and fell just short of reaching the Super Bowl.
Philadelphia was active this offseason in an attempt to upgrade the offense. There are some that wonder if the attention paid to the offense hasn't hurt the defense.
While they have added a Pro Bowler on the offensive line, the Eagles defense has to overcome a disgruntled starting cornerback (Sheldon Brown), a rookie coordinator (Sean McDermott), and the loss of its heart (Brian Dawkins) and brain (Johnson).
While the Eagles were already preparing to face this season without Johnson at the helm—McDermott was introduced as the defensive coordinator Saturday—many still wondered how they would be able to overcome the loss of their captain and emotional leader in Dawkins.
Fate may have intervened with the news of Johnson's death.
From the moment Knute Rockne told his underdog Irish to "Win one for the Gipper," teams have rallied around their fallen heroes. The Eagles would be hard pressed to find someone more heroic than Johnson, who had already survived a bout with cancer once.
As dark as that black cloud is over the NovaCare Complex right now, the silver lining may come in February in Miami if an Eagles team that has lost so much can hold that Lombardi trophy high and say, "We won this one for you Jim."