Top 50 Falcons: No. 23, Billy ‘White Shoes’ Johnson

Billy White Shoes Johnson, Atlanta Falcons
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Top 50 Falcons: No. 23, Billy 'White Shoes' Johnson
Billy White Shoes Johnson, Atlanta Falcons

Former Falcons wide receiver Billy “White Shoes” Johnson was one of the game’s first electrifying playmakers. (AJC)

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is counting down the Top 50 players in Atlanta Falcons history during the franchise’s 50th anniversary season. No. 23 is wide receiver Billy Johnson.

Years played for Falcons: From 1982 to 1987, Billy Johnson dazzled Atlanta fans. He was a 15th round selection in the 1974 NFL Draft by the Houston Oilers and quickly made a name for himself with his speed and game-breaking ability with the ball in his hands. He finished with 4,211 yards receiving (2,062 in Atlanta) over his career and 10,785 all-purpose yards. In 1994, Johnson was selected as the punt returner on the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time Team. He remains the only man selected to the 75th Anniversary All-Time Team not in the Hall of Fame. During his career, he returned six punts for touchdowns and two kickoffs for scores.

Jersey No.: 81

His impact on the team: One of the game’s first electrifying playmakers and personalities, “White Shoes” returned six kicks and two punts for touchdowns over his career. Once he got into the end zone, his dancing skills were unparalleled and are still a YouTube hit to this day, as he was a trailblazer of how to celebrate scoring a touchdown. Johnson’s most infamous play as a falcon had both the sizzle and the substance to last a lifetime. Coming five seasons after the original Big Ben Right in New Orleans, Big Ben II featured a desperation heave from Steve Bartkowski to Johnson from 47-yards out to stun the Bill Walsh-led San Francisco 49ers 28-24 on Nov. 20, 1983. With two seconds on the clock, Bartkowski launched a deep ball into a crowd of receivers and defenders down the left sideline. Johnson slipped and slid as Bartkowski’s heave reached the pile of bodies and he hopped back up to secure the catch at the 7-yard line. After catching the ball, Johnson curled backwards towards the middle of the field to give himself momentum and he spiraled his way through a wall of 49ers. Johnson started to go down at the 2, but as he was falling stretched his right arm out over the goal line. It took a few seconds but the referee finally signaled a touchdown and Johnson went into his very familiar “White Shoes” dance.

On the play: “Watching the ball come down, I tried to pull up and when I leaned back, I slipped. I just lost my feet. I remember thinking, ‘Oh, God, I’m out of the play.’ But then I got up, I saw the ball ricochet. When it hit my hands, I was sort of in shock.”

On playing till the final whistle: “I don’t know how I got my hands on the ball. This is a perfect example of how you can never give up. You have got to go out and think you’re going to be successful on every play.”

Where he is now: Johnson, 63, lives in Atlanta and is the regional director of the NFL High School Player Development program, which addresses challenges players face today, such as concussion awareness, life skills and the dangers of social media. He is married with four kids and has also spent time coaching the Peachtree Ridge track and field team.

The countdown to the Top 50 players in Falcons history runs through the end of the season.

Top 50 Falcons Countdown

50: Chuck Smith
49: Michael Haynes
48: Jonathan Babineaux
47: John Zook
46: Ken Reaves
45: Lynn Cain
44: Justin Blalock
43: Bobby Butler
42: Tim Mazzetti
41: Buddy Curry
40: Scott Case
39: Jeff Merrow
38: Elbert Shelley
37: Matt Bryant
36: Alge Crumpler
35: Michael Turner
34: Ray Buchanan
33: Chris Hinton
32: Terance Mathis
31: Devin Hester
30: Don Smith
29: Greg Brezina
28: Chris Miller
27: John James
26: Bob Whitfield
25: Rolland Lawrence
24: Alfred Jenkins
23: Billy Johnson

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