In today’s edition of 100 Days, 100 Detroit Lions, we honor a defensive and special teams star from the 1970s.
Defensive Back. 1973-77 Detroit
Although his career was shortened because of injuries, when Levi Johnson retired after rupturing his Achilles tendon in the Lions’ 1978 mini-camp, there was little doubt that he had earned his place among the Lion elite. The team’s third-round pick out of Texas A&M-Kingsville in 1973, Johnson moved right away into the team’s starting right cornerback slot opposite Lem Barney. He led the Lions with 5 interceptions as a rookie. In his sophomore season he was named the Lions’ defensive MVP, grabbing another five picks. He returned two of those picks for scores in 1974, becoming only the sixth player in Lion history to accomplish that feat in a single season. He would repeat the feat again in 1975, taking back two of his three interceptions to paydirt.
Then in 1976, Johnson would grab a career-high six interceptions, returning them for a league-leading 206 yards, and another touchdown. Unfortunately, the injury bug would soon strike the young star. He would be limited to only three games in 1977 because of injury, couple that with the aforementioned Achilles break during the ‘78 preseason, and Johnson was forced to hang up his jersey after only five years.
Johnson ranks seventh on the Lions’ career interception return yardage list with 549 yards on 21 career thefts. His 206 return yards in 1976 ranks sixth all-time in team history, and his 5 career interception returns for touchdown stand behind only Lem Barney’s franchise record of 7.