|Date of birth:October 2, 1955|
|Place of birth: Shreveport, Louisiana|
|College: Morris Brown|
|NFL Draft: 1977 / Round: 1 / Pick: 28|
|Debuted in 1977|
|Last played in 1991|
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Ezra Ray Johnson (born October 2, 1955 in Shreveport, Louisiana) is a retired American football defensive end who played for the Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts and Houston Oilers in a fifteen-year career that lasted from 1977 to 1991 in the National Football League (NFL).
A first-round pick from Morris Brown College by the Green Bay Packers in 1977, Johnson was known as one of the best defensive linemen in his first few years in the league. He earned a Pro Bowl berth in 1978 after leading the league in sacks with 20.5. However by 1981, Johnson career was marred by a series of back injuries and allegations of his lack of discipline on the field, including one incident in which he ate a hot dog while sitting on the bench during a preseason game, and being inconsistent at times. He lost and regained his starting job multiple times during that period.
Johnson was exclusively used as the third-down pass rush specialist after 1986, and took a leadership role with the team. He was released in 1988 and bounced around with several teams before retiring. Despite his tendentious relationship with the team at times, Johnson was elected to the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in 1997.
Johnson played college football at Morris Brown College in Atlanta, Georgia. In his last year at Robert Morris,[clarification needed] he had 112 tackles and 28 sacks. However his size, weighting 228 pounds, and the small school he played for, helped lower his draft stock. He was drafted as the 28th pick of the first round in the 1977 NFL Draft by the Packers.
Green Bay Packers
In his rookie season, Johnson appeared in 14 games as the backup for Alden Roche at defensive end. But by his second year, Johnson became one of the top defensive ends in the league with his size and speed, a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash, being the main factors for his success. He thrived on the Packers 4–3 defense, and recorded 14 sacks by the eighth game of the season. Johnson had two sacks and forced two fumbles in a 45–28 win against the Seattle Seahawks on October 16, 1978. At that time, the Packers had the best record in the NFC Central at 6–1. Johnson recorded an unofficial 20.5 sacks, a statistic used, but not kept, by the National Football League until 1982. However, the Packers offense were among the worst in the league, and the team lost a chance for a playoff berth in the final game of the season against the Los Angeles Rams. Johnson was rewarded for his efforts by being selected to play at the Pro Bowl.
In 1979, Johnson missed seven games early in the season because of a sprained left ankle. On his return against the Minnesota Vikings on November 11, he sacked quarterback Tommy Kramer four times in a 19–7 win. During that period, Johnson teamed up with fellow first-round pick Mike Butler to form one of the league's most potent defensive lineups. Nicknamed the "Gang Green", they became known for their ability to pressure the quarterback to force a sack.
At the start of the 1980 season, Johnson was notoriously fined $1,000 and required by then-general manager-head coach Bart Starr to apologize for eating a hot dog on the sidelines during the fourth quarter of a 38–0 Packers' home preseason loss to the Denver Broncos on August 30, 1980. Starr gave Johnson back the $1,000 at the end of the year. However, defensive line coach Fred von Appen resigned five days after the incident because Starr refused to suspend Johnson. He started in all 15 games that season, as the Packers finished with a 5–10–1 record. After the season, Johnson and Butler were both criticized for not playing up to the Packers expectations when they drafted them. One journalist stated that their development was halted because of a lack of stability in the Green Bay coaching situation, who went though four defensive line coaches in three years.
In the beginning of the 1981 season, Johnson lost his starting role to Casey Merrill as the Packers changed to a 3–4 defense, and decided to use Johnson exclusively in pass rushing situations. It was a decision that confused the local media as Johnson had been the starter since 1978. Merrill, who was released by the Cincinnati Bengals and claimed off waivers by the Packers, was considered by the team as the better, more consistent interior lineman against the run. The Packers claimed Johnson lost his job because of his lack of "size" and low upside. However, during the preseason, many people within the Packers organization "questioned" Johnson's desire to play and his attitude, an allegation Johnson quickly denied. He only started three games that season.
However by 1982, Johnson regained his starting job over Merrill. Defensive coordinator John Meyer stated that Johnson was "playing his best football" since his breakout 1978 season. Johnson stated that "eating his mother's cooking" and being "healthy" were the main reasons for his improvement. He signed a three-year contract with the Packers at $450,000 a year. It led to a lawsuit against his former agency Bradcor Sports Servicing, who claimed that he never gave the agency their commission. He had an official career best of 14.5 quarterback sacks in 1983 along with 107 tackles, a team record by a defensive lineman in a single season.
The success didn't last long however, as Johnson started to get hampered with back injuries, which reduced his effectiveness. In 1984, Johnson had surgery for a herniated disk, an injury he suffered during training camp, and was known as a potential career-ending injury. He missed the first game of the regular season against the St. Louis Cardinals and could not fully recover from the injury. Again he lost his starting job, becoming the third-down pass-rushing specialist, and was credited with seven sacks for the year, as Johnson was mulling retirement.
Prior to the start of training camp for the 1985 season, Johnson had a second surgery to repair his herniated disk. At the same time, Johnson took on a leadership role for the Green Bay defense, and started to accept his role as a backup and started to mentor the younger players. After injuries befell the Packers' defensive line, Johnson regained his starting position at defensive end. He started all 16 games that year, achieving 9.5 sacks. His career started to diminish after that season. In 1986, Johnson was credited with three and a half sacks as he was used as the designated third-down pass rushing specialist. He injured his right knee in 1987, missing 10 of the first 11 games of the season. He was released by the Packers on January 8, 1988. At the time of his release, Johnson was the Packers' all-time leader in sacks with 84.
Indianapolis and Houston
Johnson signed with the Indianapolis Colts in 1988, as a part-time starter in a role similar to his final few seasons with the Packers. He played in ten games that year, recording three sacks, and in 1989 he played all 16 games, recording 8.5 sacks. He joined the Houston Oilers in 1990, when he played in all 16 games, starting three, and was credited with 2.5 sacks. After playing two games for the Oilers in 1991, Johnson retired.
He played in 192 games in his career, having officially 55.5 quarterback sacks (99 when his unofficial totals are added).
Life after football
Johnson was elected to the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in 1997.
- Salituro, Chuck (September 1, 1981). "Is Ezra on the Bench?". The Milwaukee Journal. p. 9. Retrieved 28 March 2013.
- Kupper, Mike (August 26, 1977). "Packers Johnson Makes Adjustment". The Milwaukee Journal. p. 16. Retrieved 29 March 2013.
- "Ezra Johnson NFL Football Statistics". Pro-Football Reference. Sports Reference LLC./USA Today. Retrieved 28 March 2013.
- Lea, Bud (October 16, 1978). "Johnson had Another Big Day in the Pit.". The Milwaukee Sentinel. p. 11. Retrieved 28 March 2013.
- Salituro, Chuck (October 1, 1981). "Ezra Upset". The Milwaukee Journal. p. 29. Retrieved 28 March 2013.
- Begel, Dave (December 18, 1978). "Packers Finally Done In By Their Offense". The Milwaukee Journal. p. 9. Retrieved 29 March 2013.
- Christopulos, Mike (November 14, 1979). "Ezra Johnson discovers that boxing is no soft touch.". The Milwaukee Sentinel. Retrieved 28 March 2013.
- Feuerherd, Vic (November 12, 1979). "The sack is back for the Packers as Johnson returns to the lineup.". The Milwaukee Sentinel. p. 11. Retrieved 29 March 2013.
- Begel, Dave (November 27, 1980). "Ezra Johnson stands out as living symbol of Packers' resurgence.". The Milwaukee Journal. p. 24. Retrieved 28 March 2013.
- Salituro, Chuck (July 28, 1981). "Ezra, Butler Predict Big Year". The Milwaukee Journal. pp. 8–9. Retrieved 28 March 2013.
- Salituro, Chuck (August 27, 1982). "Packers say Ezra will start". The Milwaukee Journal. p. 16. Retrieved 29 March 2013.
- "Ezra Johnson sued by sports agency.". The Milwaukee Journal (UPI). March 3, 1982. p. 22. Retrieved 28 March 2013.
- Silverstein, Tom (August 10, 1987). "Ezra Johnson aiming for big year.". The Milwaukee Sentinel. p. 10. Retrieved 28 March 2013.
- Salituro, Chuck (August 7, 1984). "Johnson is optimistic that back will improve.". The Milwaukee Journal. p. 29. Retrieved 29 March 2013.
- Feuerherd, Vic (August 29, 1984). "Ezra Johnson tries to remain optimistic". The Milwaukee Sentinel. p. 9. Retrieved 28 March 2013.
- Lea, Bud (July 27, 1985). "Johnson gets chance to put agony behind.". The Milwaukee Sentinel. pp. 7, 9. Retrieved 29 March 2013.
- "Ezra Johnson won't need surgery". The Milwaukee Journal. September 17, 1987. p. 43. Retrieved 28 March 2013.
- Sauerburg, George (January 8, 1988). "Packers let Ezra, Ivery go". The Milwaukee Sentinel. p. 28. Retrieved 29 March 2013.