Three years later, theres only seven of them left. Seven guys who played football for Jim Johnson. Seven guys who remember one of the greatest coaches in franchise history.
Trent Cole, Asante Samuel, Trevor Laws, Joselio Hanson, Akeem Jordan, Mike Patterson and Juqua Parker.
On Sunday, the Eagles will give Johnson the highest honor the franchise bestows, formally inducting him into the teams Honor Roll. Johnson will become the first assistant coach and only the third former coach inducted into the Honor Roll, which was started in 1987.
Hall of Famer Greasy Neale, coach of the 1948 and 1949 NFL champions, and Dick Vermeil, who led the Eagles to the 1980 Super Bowl, are the only other coaches in the Honor Roll.
Johnson, an NFL tight end with the Bills in the mid-1960s before a 42-year coaching career, spent 1999 through 2008 as the Eagles defensive coordinator under Andy Reid. He died on July 28, 2009, just before the 2009 season, after a courageous battle with cancer. He was 68.
He treated defense like artwork, and you dont like nobody messing up your artwork, said Jordan, a part-time starting linebacker under Johnson in 2007 and 2008. So if you did something that wasnt quite right, that wasnt how he drew it up, man, he was hard on you.
He took it personal if you messed up, because it was his defense. It was like you just spit in his face. So you definitely didnt want to mess up because youd hear about it. He just had it in his mind, Were going to go out there and do this and do that, and then we just went out and did it.
During Johnsons 10 years at the helm of the Eagles defense, the Eagles went 97-62-1, the best record of any NFC team, reaching the playoffs seven times and the NFC Championship Game five times.
The Eagles allowed only 18.1 points per game in 10 years under Johnson, fifth-best in the NFL during that span. They recorded 427 sacks (second to the Steelers 432), forced 306 turnovers (sixth-most), gave up just 173 passing TDs (fewest in the league) and allowed 103 rushing TDs (fifth-best).
Even more impressively, in 17 playoff games under Johnson, the defense gave up just 27 touchdowns and just 15.8 points per game. In the second half of those 17 postseason games, Johnsons defenses gave up only 10 touchdowns and 6.5 points per game.
He was good at getting the most out of his players and finding the best way to put them in position to make plays, said Hanson, whos been with the Eagles since 2006. He always knew how to attack and put pressure on.
The biggest thing I learned from Jim was to be accountable on every play. Youve got people depending on you to do your job and make sure youre accountable or hed let you know about it. Which was not a bad thing, because he brought the best out of you. You might not like it, but you played almost perfect because you knew if you messed up, youd hear about it and nobody wanted that.
Jim was one of the best at what he does. Hard to replace that. Hard to get that back.
Johnson was innovative, inventive and tireless. His blitz schemes were groundbreaking, and his second-half adjustments were legendary. Over his 10 years, the Eagles gave up on the average 10 points in the first half and just eight in the second.
As ferocious as his schemes were and as much as he demanded from his guys, Johnson was a gentleman. Incredibly demanding and ferociously competitive. But respectful with a notorious deadpan sense of humor.
He was an awesome coach, man, said Patterson, one of the senior members of the defense, now in his seventh year. He always inspired guys to go out there and play hard, and thats why I liked him. He didnt have to come out there and yell and stuff like that. He would just go out there and talk and have respect for you. So I always enjoyed him. I always miss him.
Johnson preached unity among his players and constantly emphasized that if any of his 11 guys strayed from the scheme, the whole thing would fall apart.
No matter how talented they were.
Defense works together, its one unit, thats one big thing I learned from Jim, Jordan said. You cant just stand out as an individual, you have to work together as a team. And even though he had great players in it, we all worked together.
Laws only had one year with Johnson but said he still carries with him all the knowledge that he picked up back in 2008.
It was great, he said. Just try to be a sponge, absorb as much as possible and try to learn from the greatness.
He had such an aggressive mindset on defense. Im coming from defenses that just kind of sat back and watched what was happening. Being who he was, he was the person who was going to dictate how the pace of the game went.
Some coaches are afraid to blitz, but the word afraid was not in Jim Johnsons vocabulary. He would bring the blitz on first down, second down, third down, fourth down, whenever he wanted to.
Under Johnson, 10 different Eagles defensive players reached at least one Pro Bowl, and those 10 went to a combined 26 Pro Bowls.
Great, great guy, said cornerback Asante Samuel, who played under Johnson for just one year. Hell of a defensive coordinator. He had a great scheme he implemented over here. Just a wonderful guy all-around. You know, hes definitely missed.
Johnson will be honored with a video presentation at halftime of the Eagles nationally televised game against the Cowboys Sunday at the Linc. His widow, Vicki, who still lives in the Philadelphia suburbs, will be there and will speak briefly. Record-setting cornerback Eric Allen, who went to five Pro Bowls as an Eagle, is also being inducted into the Honor Roll Sunday.
The Honor Roll tribute area is located in the Headhouse on the north end of the stadium, which opens three hours prior to kickoff, or 90 minutes before the main gates.
Its a great honor for Jim, Hanson said. He deserves it. Hope we can get a win for him. I know he didnt like the Cowboys, so the best thing we can do is get a win for him on Sunday.
E-mail Reuben Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org.