They stayed after almost everyone left, swapping stories about the grizzled, old coach they came to love and came to Lincoln Financial Field today to memorialize. Former Eagles Ike Reese, Hugh Douglas and N.D. Kalu were just a few of the approximately 300 that traveled near and far to remember Jim Johnson and pay respects to his wife, Vicki, his children and his grandchildren.
Johnson, the long-time Eagles defensive coordinator, died on July 28 after a months-long battle with melanoma. Coach Andy Reid canceled training camp practices at Lehigh today so that many from the organization could attend a 40-minute service that was held inside the Linc.
Eagles players from various points of Johnson's ten-year tenure were in attendance, including Troy Vincent, Bobby Taylor, Jeremiah Trotter, Dani Jones, Al Harris, Quntin Mikell, Stewart Bradley and Trent Cole. Former Eagles safety Brian Dawkins, currently with the Denver Broncos, would have been in Philadelphia if it weren't for a broken hand that required surgery.
Many of Johnson's former assistants were on hand, including current NFL coaches John Harbaugh and Steve Spagnuolo, who left their own training camps. NFL commissioner Roger Godell made an appearance.
Rev. Herb Lusk, a former NFL player who acts on occassion as the Eagles chaplain, eulogized Johnson. He said that musicians played "Amazing Grace," Johnson's favorite song. Former Colts GM Bill Tobin, who has known Johnson since his days as a quarterback at Missouri, also spoke. There was a video tribute and there were large black and white photos of Johnson through the years on display.
But it was the personal memories of Johnson that many in attendance will take home with them. Kalu spoke of the time he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in 2004 and Johnson soothed the defensive end.
"I’m sitting on the bench just crying and he just sat there for 15 minutes and wouldn’t say word because he knew there wasn’t any words he could say," Kalu said. "After 15-20 minutes he got up and said, ‘N.D., it’s going to be alright.’ Those are the stories people don’t know about. … He was a great man."
How great? Even former Eagles end Derrick Burgess liked him.
"He doesn’t like anybody," Kalu said. "He called me and he’s like, ‘Aw, man, Jim died.’ And just to hear Burgess’ voice, that let you know what type of person Jim was. Burgess doesn’t show emotion."
Kalu, who is retired from football, remembered the time Johnson told him he was no longer a starter.
"If you weren’t playing good he’d let you know," Kalu said. "He never sugar coated anything. He told you exactly how it was. I remember when he told me I got demoted and Trent Cole was going [to replace me]. It was obvious. Trent Cole is one of the best now. He didn’t beat around the bush. He didn’t play games. He just walked in and said, ‘Hey, I’m starting Trent. He’s being productive and you’re a little hurt.’ And I respected that. Some of these coaches start taking your reps away in practice. You don’t know where you stand. But you always knew where you stand with Jim whether it was good or bad."