Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Spotlight On: Billy "White Shoes" Johnson

Topps, football cards

One of the more electrifying players of the 70s and 80s was Billy “White Shoes” Johnson.  His “colorful” name conjures up images of his even more colorful touchdown dance the Funky Chicken.  I have never been able to find anyone that did a regular end zone dance after scoring a touchdown before him so he gets the title as being the first.

The nickname originated at Chichester High School in Boothwyn, Pennsylvania where he dyed his shoes as part of a dare.  In the pros he continued to wear white shoes and was in the habit of heavily taping his ankles and shoes, often times obscuring shoe logos, which further emphasized the whiteness of the shoes.  The Houston Oilers drafted the small but quick Johnson in the 15th round of the 1974 draft from Widener College, a small division III school.  He quickly made an impact on the Oilers punt return team and as a wide receiver.  He scored 6 return touchdowns in his first four seasons and was the MPV of the 1975 Pro Bowl (played January of 1976).  He was also a starter on offense but he was mainly known as the originator of the first end zone dance, the "funky chicken."  I saw it for the first time when my buddy emulated the dance on the playground back in 5th grade.

A knee injury in 1978-1979 took him out of action, missing 25 games for the Oilers.  By 1980 he was no longer the main return man, though he started six games. Giving up on him, the Oilers let him go when he signed a lucrative contract in the Canadian Football League with the Montreal Alouettes.  He had a monster year in Canada catching 65 passes for 1060 yards, and returning 59 punts for 597 yards.  Despite the Alouettes signing hot rookie David Overstreet and former NFL stars Vince Ferragamo, and James Scott (in addition to the signing of Fred Biletnikoff in 1980), the hapless Alouettes (worst name ever?) stumbled to a 3-13 season in 1981.

Billy headed back for the NFL, signing a with the Atlanta Falcons in 1982. 1982 was a down year statistically for everyone as the players strike shortened the season to 9 games.  It was in 1983 where Johnson regained his punt return form of the mid-70s and he broke out as a dependable starting receiver. He was voted to the Pro Bowl again in 1983 and was a key player for the Falcons through the 1987 season.  When he retired after the 1987 season, he was the career leader in punt return yardage.  He came out of retirement in 1988 for the Redskins where he played in one game, returning 3 punts.

As of 2018 he remains the only player on the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time Team not in the Hall Of Fame.  A fan favorite if there ever was one, "White Shoes" Johnson gets the full treatment from RetroCards with a bunch of fun "cards that never were."  Look for them in coming sets.

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