By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
Quick question: Only one player on the NFL’s 75th anniversary team is not enshrined in Canton. Can you name him?
If you said, “Jerry Kramer,” you would be close. You would also be wrong.
No, it’s former return specialist Billy “White Shoes” Johnson – a guy who not only isn’t in the Pro Football Hall of Fame but who, in all likelihood, never will be.
And that’s not unfortunate. It’s downright wrong.
We all know how difficult it is for special-teams performers to reach the Hall. Until Ray Guy was inducted in 2015, there was only one pure specialist in Canton … and that was former kicker Jan Stenerud. Guy was the best punter in NFL history, someone who – like Johnson – was a member of the NFL’s 75th anniversary team.
Yet it took him nearly three decades to reach Canton, and then only on his eighth … and presumably last … try when his candidacy was resurrected by the Hall’s senior committee.
In doing that, the Hall corrected a wrong. Guy should have been admitted years ago if, for no other reason, than this: If he was so accomplished at his position that he was named to the 75th anniversary team by the Hall of Fame’s board of selectors, then how could that same board turn around and prevent his admittance?
In the end, of course, it couldn’t.
It’s the same argument we use with Kramer, who was chosen to the 50th anniversary team as the NFL’s starting guard. So you’re telling me there was no guard who was better … not just during his career, but over the first 50 years … and yet you won’t name him to the Hall? Someone must explain that one to me.
Better yet, explain it to Kramer.
All I know about Billy “White Shoes” Johnson is that he was so good at what he did … and what he did was return punts and kicks … that he not only was chosen to a very exclusive club by a committee that won’t let him in Canton, but he was named to two all-decade teams.
Two. The 1970s and 1980s.
Now you can tell me that he was someone whose numbers don’t stack up against, say, a Gale Sayers as a return specialist … or a Devin Hester … and you would be right. You can also tell me that he didn’t do anything extraordinary after returning to the NFL from Canada in the 1980s, and you would be right again.
But that’s not the point. This is: The guy was held in such high regard that the Hall of Fame named him to a team that includes nothing but Hall of Famers – except for a solitary figure.
Billy “White Shoes” Johnson.
The Hall has a history of barring its doors to virtually all special teamers. Steve Tasker can’t get in. Brian Mitchell can’t get in. Heck, the league’s all-time scoring leader, Morten Andersen, can’t get in, though he’s been a finalist the past three years.
Then there’s “White Shoes,” the MVP of the 1975 Pro Bowl, a time when that team … and that game … meant something.
Yes, he was flamboyant, with his “Funky Chicken” dance routine – one of the first touchdown celebrations – making him a popular figure with Houston Oilers’ fans. But he was also damned good at what he did – returning five punts and two kickoffs for touchdowns in his first four years and adding a sixth punt return when he joined the Atlanta Falcons in 1983.
Maybe he wasn’t the greatest of all time, but he was good enough to be recognized as the greatest return specialist of the NFL’s first 75 years. And that’s good enough for me.
Critics complain that special teamers don’t belong in Canton because … well, because they’re not every-down players, that they’re only on the field for a handful of plays. And my response is: Then try to play a game without them. Better yet, eliminate the position. Neither has happened, and for good reason.
Now tell me why the board that named Billy “White Shoes” Johnson the greatest return man in the NFL’s first 75 years insists on ignoring him. There is no good reason for that.