Gary Johnson was one of the best defensive players in team history. Johnson played 10 seasons with the Chargers after being selected with the No. 8 overall pick in the 1975 NFL Draft. He played collegiately at Grambling under famous head coach Eddie Robinson.
Nicknamed “Big Hands”, Johnson was named to the NFL’s All-Rookie Team in 1975 before going on to make four consecutive Pro Bowls from 1979 through 1982.
Johnson is officially credited with 16 sacks for his career, but since that stat wasn’t officially tracked until 1982, he had many more than that. Unofficially, Johnson had 67 sacks during his time with the Chargers, which would still rank third in team history.
While the “Air Coryell” offense received all the headlines, the defense was pretty good during that time too. This included a defensive front known as the “Bruise Brothers”.
Along with Fred Dean, Leroy Jones and Louie Kelcher, Johnson and this group helped the Chargers lead the league in sacks during the 1980 season. Johnson set a single-season record for the team with 17.5 of those.
Three of those players, including Johnson, finished their careers with the San Francisco 49ers, where they helped them win a Super Bowl.
Johnson received several accolades once his career concluded, including being enshrined in the Chargers Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame.
At 6-foot-2 and 257 pounds, he would be severely undersized for a defensive tackle in today’s game. However during his era, he was one of the most effective interior defensive linemen in all of football.