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John Henry Johnson, Member of 49ers ‘Million Dollar Backfield,’ Dies at 81

Former San Francisco 49ers fullback John Henry Johnson, a member of “The Million Dollar Backfield” in the 1950s, died yesterday at the age of 81, the National Football League team said.

Johnson was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987 after a 14-season career.

He played for the 49ers from 1954-56, joining Joe Perry, Hugh McElhenny and Y.A. Tittle, whose offensive prowess led to the nickname “The Million Dollar Backfield.” The group is the only backfield to have all four of its members enshrined in the hall of fame.

“As a member of ‘The Million Dollar Backfield,’ he holds a cherished place in both 49ers and NFL history,” team owner John York said in a statement.

A four-time Pro Bowl selection, Johnson’s 6,804 career rushing yards trailed Jim Brown, Jim Taylor and Perry at his retirement in 1966. He also caught 186 passes for 1,478 yards and scored 55 touchdowns.

Drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the second round of the 1953 NFL draft, Johnson played for the Canadian Football League for one season before joining San Francisco. He also played for the Detroit Lions (1957-59), Steelers (1960-65) and Houston Oilers (1966).

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To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at

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