American Football Database
Gary Johnson
File:Gary Johnson San Diego Chargers.jpg
Date of birth: (1952-08-31)August 31, 1952
Place of birth: Shreveport, Louisiana
Date of death: August 4, 2010(2010-08-04) (aged 57)
Place of death: Shreveport, Louisiana
Career information
Position(s): Defensive Tackle
College: Grambling
NFL Draft: 1975 / Round: 1/ Pick 8
 As player:
San Diego Chargers
San Francisco 49ers
Career highlights and awards
Playing stats at
College Football Hall of Fame

Gary "Big Hands" Johnson (August 31, 1952 – August 4, 2010) was an American football player. He was a graduate of Charlotte Mitchell High School in Bossier City, Louisiana, and Grambling State University who played pro football from 1975 to 1985, the first nine years with the San Diego Chargers.

When Johnson was in the 8th grade, he wanted to pick up a basketball in his physical education class when his coach said, "Get your big hands off my basketball." The nickname "Big Hands" was born.[1]

NFL career

Johnson was drafted in the 1st round with the 8th overall pick by the Chargers in 1975 and was named to the NFL All-Rookie team. In 1980 he led the NFL with 17½ sacks, which is still a Chargers' team record. That year, Johnson teamed with fellow 1975 Chargers' draftees Fred Dean and Louie Kelcher as the Chargers led the NFL in sacks (60). Johnson and Dean were named 1st-team All-Pro, with Kelcher being named 2nd-team All-Pro. The trio, along with Leroy Jones formed a defensive frontline that was locally nicknamed the Bruise Brothers,[2][3] coined from a popular act at the time, The Blues Brothers.[4]

Johnson again was named 1st team All-Pro in 1981, and was 2nd team All-Pro in 1982. He was on Pro Bowl teams from 1980 to 1983. Don "Air" Coryell's Chargers teams of that era are mostly remembered for its high-scoring, pass-oriented offense. The Chargers won the AFC West from 1979 to 1981 and made the playoffs in 1982.

Johnson was re-united with Dean and Kelcher on the San Francisco 49ers, and together they won Super Bowl XIX. Sports Illustrated called Johnson the Super Bowl's "unofficial defensive MVP" after he recorded one sack, flushed Miami quarterback Dan Marino out of the pocket numerous times, and had four unassisted tackles.[5] Johnson retired after the 1985 season.

In 1997 he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. In 1999 he was inducted into the San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame.


Johnson suffered a stroke on July 20, 2010 and died on August 4, 2010 in his hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana.[6]


  1. Jerry Magee (February 12, 2007). "You gotta hand it to legendary Johnson". The San Diego Union Tribune. Retrieved 2008-10-23.
  2. "Grambling State University Loses Two Football Legends". (Fox Sports Interactive Media, LLC). August 11, 2010. Archived from the original on May 27, 2011.
  3. "No. 16: Chargers' best draft class". March 28, 2009. Retrieved May 27, 2011. "The 2001 class was good, but the 1975 class ranks the best. San Diego had four of the first 33 picks in the draft, and the Chargers selected three defensive linemen that would form the nucleus of "The Bruise Brothers" and once formed three-fourths of the AFC Pro Bowl defensive line."(subscription required)
  4. "Countdown to Enshrinement Spotlight: Fred Dean". College Football Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on July 13, 2011.
  5. Zimmerman, Paul (January 28, 1985). "The Niners Were Never Finer". Sports Illustrated. Archived from the original on March 7, 2013.
  6. Nick Canepa (August 4, 2010). "Gary 'Big Hands' Johnson dead at 57". The San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved 2010-08-04.