There were Super Bowl parties in homes across the country last Sunday, but few of the gatherings featured real former New York Giants.
At Atria Tanglewood in Lynbrook, a senior and assisted-living facility, residents had the pleasure of watching Big Blue win the eighth NFL championship in franchise history in the company of Herb Johnson, a member of the 1954 Giants and a fellow Atria resident.
Johnson is a member of an elite group: At age 83, he is one of the nation’s oldest living former pro football players. Fortunately, his health is better than that of most of his colleagues. “There are moments when Dad’s joints bother him — his hips and knees,” said his son, Michael. “We’re fortunate that his health is as strong as it is. His heart is great, his metabolism is terrific and his lineage is very strong. It’s that strong Oregon stock.”
Johnson, who was married to his late wife, Joan, for 54 years, raised seven children in Lynbrook, all of whom graduated from Lynbrook High School. The couple lived in the community for nearly 40 years before moving to Southold.
Johnson grew up in the Oregon Coast Range foothills and was a football and track start at Portland’s Roosevelt High School. He had a choice to make in 1948 — to try to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team as a pole-vaulter and compete in the 1948 Summer Olympics in London, or accept an appointment to West Point. He chose the latter.
After playing at West Point, where the Cadets won 28 straight games before being upset by Navy in the 1950 season finale, Johnson went on to attend the University of Washington and starred for the Seattle Ramblers of the now-defunct Greater Northwest Football Association. He spent 1953 with the Canadian Football League’s Saskatchewan Roughriders, where he set five records, including one for the league’s longest punt return (109 yards), a mark that stood for 22 years.
In 1954, Johnson, who was known as a dominant force on both sides of the ball, spent a memorable season suiting up alongside legendary Giants like Frank Gifford, Eddie Price, Emlen Tunnell and Tom Landry. The team’s offensive coordinator was another legend in the making, Vince Lombardi.