Jim Johnson's important life

We're taught in journalism school to be objective about the people we cover on a daily basis.

Some people we encounter, however, make that rule impossible to follow.

Jim Johnson was one of those people.

Six months ago I used this space to say that I was cheering from the press box for the Eagles' defensive coordinator to beat cancer. I said I'd gladly give him a standing ovation if he did so.

We found out early last evening that Johnson, like so many others, had lost his battle with metastatic melanoma.

This morning, I give Jim Johnson a standing ovation anyway because I know even more about the man than I did before yesterday.

As I was driving home from Lehigh University late last night, I received a couple of e-mails from Johnson's distant past.

One was from a man named Joe Johnson. Jim Johnson had recruited him to play at Notre Dame, then later coached him again with the Jacksonville Bulls of the USFL. Joe Johnson hadn't forgotten Jim Johnson.

A half-hour later, another e-mail appeared from Mac Brand, who was recruited by Johnson to play at Drake University in the 1970s.

Many years passed, but these men never forgot Jim Johnson's impact on their lives.

As I made my 90-minute ride home, I thought about how cool it must be to have that kind of influence.

I already knew, of course, that Jim Johnson was a great coach. Plenty of statistics support that fact.

I also knew he was a tremendous man from my personal encounters with Johnson. The last one came a few months ago when Johnson courageously tried to continue coaching through his chemotherapy treatments at the Eagles' post-draft camp.

Jim and I made eye contact after a Saturday morning practice at the NovaCare Complex. I smiled and told him how good it was to see him.

He smiled back.

"It's good to see you," he said.

I could tell he meant it. I could tell how happy he was to be coaching football, too.

It says on Jackie Robinson's tombstone that "a life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives."

Jim Johnson's life was incredibly important. 

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