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The Very Best of Jim Johnson

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Eagles’ fans need to thank the Chicago Bears for having Jim Johnson for the past 10 years.

Just after the 1998 season, Johnson was looking for work and had gotten a call from Andy Reid, who had just become the Eagles head coach to become his defensive coordinator.

He was also in talks with his close friend Dave McGinnis, who was about to be named the head coach of the Chicago Bears.

Johnson knew Reid and liked him, but he would have chosen McGinnis and the Bears over Reid and the Eagles.

If you remember, the Bears fired Dave Wannstadt the same year the Eagles fired Ray Rhodes and were set to hire McGinnis, a long-time assistant coach, to take over.

The press conference was planned, but at the last minute the deal fell through and instead Chicago hired Dick Jauron.

McGinnis was out and Johnson was on his way to Philadelphia to join Reid’s staff.

That was one of many stories Johnson shared with me over the past 10 years he was the Eagles defensive coordinator and I covered the team.

Tuesday, Johnson gave into an opponent that rarely loses – cancer.

He will be missed, not only by the defensive players he coached, the fans who cheered for his defenses and his coaching colleagues, but by the men and women who wrote about his defense as well.

Very few assistant coaches leave a mark the way he did.

In a tribute to the man who helped the Eagles win six NFC East titles, reach five NFC Championship Games and one Super Bowl here are a dozen of his defense’s best efforts over the past 10 seasons.

December 31, 2000: Eagles 21, Tampa Bay 3 – In Reid and Johnson’s first playoff game with the Eagles, Johnson’s defense dominated the run-oriented Buccaneers.

Tampa Bay managed just 199 yards of total offense and did not score after taking an early 3-0 lead. The defense recorded four sacks of quarterback Shaun King and Hugh Douglas sack and forced fumble recovered by Mike Mamula led to the Eagles go-ahead touchdown.

October 22, 2001: Eagles 10, Giants 9 – After losing nine straight times to the Giants (Reid and Johnson lost three), the Eagles end the streak on Monday Night Football at the Meadowlands.

Johnson’s defense kept the Giants out of the end zone all night, held them to 238 yards, sacked Kerry Collins once and middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter forced a turnover to stop a last-minute Giants comeback.

November 18, 2001: Eagles 36, Dallas 3 – The Cowboys rolled up 213 yards of total offense, while the Eagles defense also recorded four sacks and three turnovers.

Dallas actually kicked a fourth-quarter field goal with the score 26-0 to deny Johnson of what would have been his only shutout.

January 12, 2002: Eagles 31, Tampa Bay 9 – For the second straight year the Eagles and Bucs met in the playoffs and for the second straight year the Eagles defense was the story.

Johnson’s unit dominated Tony Dungy’s team and intercepted quarterback Brad Johnson four times on the day.

December 1, 2002: Eagles 10, St. Louis 3 – In rookie quarterback A.J. Feeley’s first NFL start, the Eagles defense made it easy for him. “The Greatest Show on Turf’’ was held to 250 yards and committed five turnovers. Quarterback Kurt Warner was sacked eight times and running back Marshall Faulk was held to 29 yards rushing.

Cornerback Bobby Taylor scored the only touchdown of the game on an interception return.

This might rank as the greatest game in Johnson’s tenure.

December 21, 2002: Eagles 27, Dallas 3 – Again with Feeley at the controls, the defense stepped up and destroyed the Cowboys.

Dallas managed just 146 yards, 30 of those from running back Emmitt Smith. The defense recorded seven sacks and forced three turnovers.

January 11, 2003: Eagles 20, Atlanta 6 – Johnson came up with a great scheme to harness and harass quarterback Mike Vick all night and the Falcons did not score a point in the second half, as the Eagles rolled into the NFC Championship Game.

December 27, 2003: Eagles 31, Washington 7 – In a game that led to the Eagles clinching home-field advantage in the playoffs, the defense held Washington to 260 total yards, while it recorded five sacks and three turnovers.

December 19, 2004: Eagles 12, Dallas 7 – Again the Eagles clinched home-field advantage in the playoffs with the win.

In this one, wide receiver Terrell Owens went out with a broken ankle and the offense struggled. Johnson’s defense stepped up, held the Cowboys to 237 total yards and had three sacks and three turnovers.

December 25, 2006: Eagles 23, Dallas 7 – On Christmas night, the Eagles won the NFC East title with a win at Texas Stadium.

Johnson’s defense allowed just 201 total yards and again had three sacks and three turnovers. It also held Terrell Owens to just two catches for 23 yards.

Sept. 21, 2008: Eagles 15, Pittsburgh 6 – In a suffocating performance, the Eagles defense stopped the Steelers all afternoon.

Pittsburgh could put up but 179 total yards of offense. The Eagles sacked Ben Roethisberger nine times and forced three Steelers turnovers.

Yes, this was the same Pittsburgh team that hoisted the Lombardi Trophy four-and-a-half months later.

December 28, 2008: Eagles 44, Dallas 6 – In what would be Johnson’s last home game, his defense dominated Dallas to clinch a wild-card berth.

The Eagles forced five Cowboys turnovers, sacked Tony Romo four times and scored two touchdowns in the rout.

Article also appears in The Trenton County Times on  www.nj.com

Homepage photo: www.mccall.com