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49ers legend Jimmy Johnson dies at 86; Hall of Fame corner spent all 16 NFL seasons in San Francisco

Jimmy Johnson, one of the finest San Francisco 49ers of all time and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 1994, has died at the age of 86. Johnson passed away on Wednesday evening, according to a statement released by the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Before the 49ers' glory years of the 1980s, Johnson emerged as not just one of San Francisco's greatest players but one of the NFL's best defensive backs.

"Jimmy Johnson was extraordinarily athletically talented," Hall of Fame President Jim Porter said in Thursday's statement. "The 49ers enjoyed the luxury of using him on offense and defense early in his career to fill team needs. Once he settled in at left cornerback, he flourished. The notion that a 'lockdown' cornerback could cut the field in half for the opposition was true with Jimmy. Only rarely would other teams' quarterbacks even look his direction, and more often than not regretted the decision if they challenged him."

In a decorated, 16-season career played entirely with the 49ers, Johnson lined up as a cornerback, wide receiver and safety from 1961 through 1976, collecting five Pro Bowl selections, three first-team All-Pro nods and a spot on the Hall of Fame's All-Decade Team of the 1970s. His impact on the Niners is exemplified by his status as one of the charter members of the franchise's own Hall of Fame, which opened in 2009. Also, his No. 37 has been permanently retired by the team since 1977.

Johnson racked up 47 career interceptions in 213 games, with 615 return yards. He also logged 40 receptions for 690 yards and four touchdowns in two seasons as a wide receiver. When Johnson retired following the 1976 campaign, no NFL player had turned in more seasons at defensive back than him. At that time, Johnson's 201 games and 198 starts were each the most for a DB in league history.

His interceptions and INT return yards remain second in 49ers history, behind only fellow Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott (51 interceptions, 643 yards).

Born March 31, 1938, in Dallas, James Earl "Jimmy" Johnson played college ball at UCLA. But Johnson wasn't just a football standout for the Bruins -- he was also exceptional on the track, though not quite as good as his brother. Johnson won All-American honors and an NCAA 100-meter championship, while his brother, Rafer, garnered a gold medal in the decathlon at the 1960 Summer Olympics.

Taken sixth overall by San Francisco in the 1961 NFL Draft, Johnson made an immediate impact for the 49ers, grabbing five interceptions in 12 games (10 starts). He then played flanker throughout the 1962 campaign, hauling in 34 receptions for 627 yards (18.4 yards per catch) and four touchdowns. Johnson belonged in the defensive backfield, though, playing safety in 1963 before returning to cornerback full time in 1964.

From 1969 through 1972, Johnson went to four consecutive Pro Bowls and was a first-team All-Pro over the last three years of that stretch. Johnson's All-Pro run paralleled the 49ers' greatest success during his career, as head coach Dick Nolan's squads won three straight NFC West titles to begin the 1970s. Unfortunately for Johnson, those were the only seasons of his career that included playoff berths (all of them ending with losses to the Dallas Cowboys).

San Francisco did post a winning record (8-6) in Johnson's final season, with the cornerback snatching his last interception during a Week 3 win over a new franchise called the Seattle Seahawks. Johnson was 38 years, 179 days old at the time of his final pick, becoming the oldest NFL player at any position to record an interception at the time.

For 16 seasons, Johnson provided the 49ers with consistent greatness.