John Johnson, a longtime trainer for the Giants who oversaw the well-being of six decades’ worth of players and was inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor in October, died Sunday in New Jersey at age 98. Only former owner Wellington Mara, whose affiliation with the team began at age 9 when his father, Tim, founded the Giants in 1925 and ended upon his death in 2005, had a longer tenure with the franchise.
“Johnny Johnson was one of the finest men I have ever known,” Giants co-owner John Mara said. “He spent 60 years with our team caring for players from Charlie Conerly and Frank Gifford right on up to Eli Manning. Nobody was more loved and respected than Mr. J. We were so pleased to be able to include him in our Ring of Honor this past season. He was part of the family and we will miss him terribly.”
Johnson became head athletic trainer at Manhattan College in 1947 and the following year he was invited to work at the Giants’ training camp. For 56 years, he worked for both the college and the Giants. He retired from Manhattan College in 2003 and worked another four years for the Giants before fully retiring. He was with the Giants for 874 regular-season and 34 postseason games, worked with 12 head coaches, and was part of four championship teams, including three Super Bowl titles. He retired at age 90 after the Giants won Super Bowl XLII following the 2007 season.
“Leaving a legacy is something that we all strive to do, and John Johnson achieved that and more,” said Ronnie Barnes, the Giants’ senior vice president of medical services, who began his career with the Giants in 1976 and worked closely with Johnson. “He had so many stories about the early NFL and medicine before the arthroscope and advanced diagnostic technology . . . He was compassionate and caring and a true professional. His dedication to his profession and his poise and class were recognized by all.”
Johnson, who had seen so much of Giants history, was often asked the same questions: Who was the greatest Giant and what was the greatest Giants team?
“I don’t think you can say that over 60 years, because we had a lot of great ballplayers,” Johnson said upon his Ring of Honor induction. “I think each year had certain guys that were capable of doing big things, like Sam Huff was great in his time. Lawrence was one of the best, there’s no doubt about that. Phil was a great quarterback.”
And Johnson always enjoyed the fact that both his first Giants quarterback and his last — Conerly and Manning — were from Ole Miss. “I think that’s amazing to think about,” he said. “Eli is a great kid.”
Johnson was born on March 31, 1917. He grew up in Sea Bright, New Jersey, and graduated from Long Branch High School.
Visiting will be at Moritz Funeral Home in Closter, New Jersey, Friday from 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m.. A funeral will be held Saturday at 11 a.m. at the United Methodist Church in Demarest, New Jersey. Interment will be at Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York.
Johnson is survived by his daughters, Jeanette Johnson and Laura Watson; his brother David, and grandson Richard Norman Watson. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The Salvation Army, Vantage Health Systems in Dumont, New Jersey, and the United Methodist Church at Demarest.