|Johnson scores winning TD|
Ron Johnson, the first New York Giants running back to rush for 1,000 yards in a season, died on Saturday in Madison, NJ. He was 71 and had suffered from Alzheimer’s for the last nine years. His death came almost 48 years to the day he led the Giants to one of their greatest comebacks.
The date was Nov. 15, 1970 and the Giants were hosting the Washington Redskins. The Giants were in the midst of their “down” years and 1970 seemed to be no exception, after they dropped their first three games of the season. But with former Giants player Alex Webster as coach, Fran Tarkenton – the scrambling quarterback- and Johnson in the backfield, they were starting to look like the old Giants again, the Giants who used to win championships. They had won five straight, entering the Redskins game.
That Sunday, my Mom and Dad, brother Chris – my older brother Rich was away at school – and I went to Danbury to visit my Uncle Jerry and Aunt Mollie. My Uncle Will and grandfather – after whom I am named – also made the trip from Torrington to Danbury for our pre-Thanksgiving day, Sunday feast. And what a feast it was. My uncle and aunt owned a restaurant and were both excellent chefs.
The Giants game began, as the meal started, but we kept tabs as dinner was being served. By halftime, the meal was over and the Giants had a 14-12 lead. It was time to convene to my Uncle Jerry’s TV room for the second half.
In the third quarter, however, Redskins quarterback Sonny Jurgeson picked apart the Giants defense, and Washington took a 33-14 lead into the fourth period. Suddenly, my uncle’s jammed TV room had plenty of space. People started returning to the dining room for dessert, everybody that is except by brother, Uncle Will and me. For some reason we thought these Giants really were different and had a miracle rally in them. Our faith was rewarded. New York scored three touchdowns in the last 10 minutes of the game, including Johnson’s game-winner with a minute left. He finished the game with two touchdowns and 106 yards rushing.
It’s funny what you remember 48 years later, after a game like that. I still remember the look on Washington coach Bill Austin’s face after his club blew such a big lead. Austin was the interim coach, after Vince Lombardi died earlier in the season from cancer. I remember Ron Johnson appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show that night. Back then, being asked to “stand up to take a bow” by Sullivan was a big deal. The Sullivan show itself was a big deal. I remember the glee my brother, Uncle and me shared over such a stirring victory.
And I will always remember Ron Johnson, whose performance that day was so good, it made for a Sunday afternoon so special, I can still vividly recall its details nearly a half century later.