40 Days: A Lool Back At All-American Ron Johnson

With only 40 days left until the return of Michigan football, we look back at All-American running back, Ron Johnson. The Detroit native had many highlights and achievements that are summarized below:


  • Enrolled at the University of Michigan in the fall of 1965 and played college football for the Michigan Wolverines football team from 1966 to 1968 under head coach Bump Elliott.
  • As a junior in 1967, Johnson became the Wolverines starting halfback, gaining 982 rushing yards on 210 carries for an average of 4.7 yards per carry.
  • On October 7, 1967, in his third game as a starter, Johnson eclipsed the Michigan and Big Ten Conference single-game rushing records with 270 rushing yards on 26 carries for an average of 10.4 yards per carry against Navy.
  • He also had 100-yard games that same year against Michigan State (107 yards on 24 carries), Minnesota (108 yards on 17 carries), and 167 yards against Northwestern (167 yards on a career-high 42 carries).
  • He set a Big Ten record with his 42 carries against Northwestern, and he was selected as the most valuable player on the 1967 Michigan Wolverines football team.
  • As a senior, Johnson was captain of the 1968 Michigan Wolverines football team, the first African-American player to receive the honor at Michigan.
  • He rushed for 1,391 yards on 255 carries in 10 games during the 1968 season.
  • Hi senior year ended by being selected by the Football Writers Association of America and Football News as a first-team running back on the 1968 College Football All-America Team.
  • He was unanimously selected by his Michigan team mates as the team’s most valuable player, winning the honor for the second consecutive year, received the Big Ten Medal as the most outstanding scholar-athlete at the University of Michigan, and finished sixth in the voting for the 1968 Heisman Trophy with 12 first-place votes and 158 total points.


  • He was selected the Cleveland Browns in the first round of the 1969 NFL Draft.
  • In August 1969, Johnson ended a lengthy holdout, signing a two-year contract with the Browns in exchange for a compensation package reported to be in excess of $100,000.
  • In a disappointing rookie season, he appeared in all 14 games, 13 as a starter, as a fullback for the Browns, but gained only 472 yards and scored seven touchdowns on 138 carries.
  • In February 1970, Johnson was traded by the Browns to the New York Giants as part of a multi-player deal that sent Homer Jones to the Browns and Paul Warfield to the Miami Dolphins.
  • His NFL career by team and year: 1969 Cleveland Browns, 1970–1975 New York Giants
  • Johnson continued to play for the Giants through the 1975 season. He tallied 902 rushing yards and 377 receiving yards in 1973, but saw his playing time drop off in 1974 and 1975.

Life After Playing

  • Johnson was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1992.
  • In 2006, he was named the chairman of the National Football Foundation, operator of the College Football Hall of Fame, becoming the fifth chairman in 59 years.
  • In 2008, Johnson was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. As of 2011, Johnson was living in a residential care facility in New Jersey, and the majority of the cost of his care was being funded by the NFL’s.

Go Blue!

David Noe

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