Gary "Big Hands" Johnson (August 31, 1952 – August 4, 2010) was an American football player in the National Football League (NFL). The defensive tackle was a three-time All-Pro and a four-time Pro Bowl selection. He played the majority of his NFL career with the San Diego Chargers, and he was inducted into the Chargers Hall of Fame.
Johnson played college football for the Grambling State Tigers. He was drafted by San Diego in the 1975 NFL Draft in the first round with the eighth overall pick. Johnson was named to the NFL All-Rookie team in his first season. The Chargers won three consecutive division titles from 1979 through 1981. Their defense led the league in sacks in 1980 behind Johnson's team-record 17 1⁄2 sacks. In 1984, Johnson was traded to the San Francisco 49ers, and he won a Super Bowl with the team that season. Johnson retired after the 49ers season in 1985.
He is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, and was named to both the Chargers' 40th and 50th anniversary teams.
Johnson was born in Shreveport, Louisiana and grew up in Bossier City. When Johnson was in the eighth grade, he wanted to pick up a basketball in his physical education class when his coach said, "Get your big hands off my basketball." The nickname "Big Hands" was born. He played football at Charlotte Mitchell High School, and later played college football at Grambling State University for their Tigers football team.
Johnson was drafted in the 1st round with the 8th overall pick by the Chargers in 1975 and was named to the NFL All-Rookie team. In 1980 Johnson teamed with fellow 1975 Chargers' draftees Fred Dean and Louie Kelcher as the Chargers led the NFL in sacks (60). That year Johnson led the NFL with 17½ sacks, which is still a Chargers' team record. He broke Steve DeLong's mark of 17 in 1969. Johnson and Dean were named 1st-team All-Pro, with Kelcher being named 2nd-team All-Pro. The trio, along with Leroy Jones formed a defensive frontline that was locally nicknamed the Bruise Brothers.
Johnson again was named 1st team All-Pro in 1981, and was 2nd team All-Pro in 1982. He was on Pro Bowl teams from 1980 to 1983. Don "Air" Coryell's Chargers teams of that era are mostly remembered for its high-scoring, pass-oriented offense. The Chargers won the AFC West from 1979 to 1981 and made the playoffs in 1982.
Johnson was re-united with Dean, Kelcher and Billy Shields on the San Francisco 49ers, and together they won Super Bowl XIX. Sports Illustrated called Johnson the Super Bowl's "unofficial defensive MVP" after he recorded one sack, flushed Miami quarterback Dan Marino out of the pocket numerous times, and had four unassisted tackles. Johnson retired after the 1985 season.
In 1991, Johnson was inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. In 1997, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. In 1999, he was inducted into the San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame. He is a member of both the Chargers 40th and 50th anniversary teams.
Johnson suffered a stroke on July 20, 2010 and died on August 4, 2010 in his hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana.