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Falcons Throwback Thursday: WR Billy “White Shoes” Johnson

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Reminisce about the Falcons of old.

AJC file photo

Hey, Falcoholics, I’m back with another edition of The Falcoholic’s Throwback Thursday series. This weekly segment highlights a former Atlanta Falcons player and discusses their life and what they did for the franchise.

Whether you’ve been a fan since the inaugural season, or just became a fan recently, this series will give insight on players from the past. This week we will be focusing on wide receiver Billy “White Shoes” Johnson.

William Arthur Johnson was born on Jan. 27, 1952 in Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania. At Chichester High School, Billy played quarterback and defensive back and was known for his speed. Although his high school career took off, his small build kept the major colleges from showing interest.

Billy “White Shoes” Johnson decided to stay in Pennsylvania and attend Widener College. Due to his speed, Billy played running back at Widener, where he scored 62 total touchdowns and starred on the Widener track team.

With the 365th pick in the 1974 NFL Draft, the Houston Oilers selected Billy “White Shoes” Johnson. With his blazing speed and quickness, he impressed head coach Sid Gillman and made the team. As both a punt and kick returner, Billy totaled 1,194 yards on 59 returns, and scored two offensive touchdowns his rookie season. Also during his rookie season, Billy began doing a touchdown celebration known as the “Funky Chicken.” It’s often regarded as one of the first touchdown celebrations in NFL history.

“White Shoes” was selected to the Pro Bowl in 1975 as a kick returner, and was named MVP of the game. In 1977, Billy made another Pro Bowl with the Oilers. In 1979, he suffered a knee injury that caused him to miss the next two seasons.

AJC file photo

After playing for the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes in 1981, Billy “White Shoes” Johnson returned to the NFL in 1982. Billy almost signed with the San Francisco 49ers, but ultimately signed with the Atlanta Falcons. In 1983, Billy was not only a full-time kick returner for the Falcons, he also led the team in receptions at wide receiver. His 64 receptions, four receiving touchdowns and his punt return touchdown earned him his third Pro Bowl selection.

In 1985, Billy “White Shoes” Johnson was forced to reduce his end zone celebrations after the NFL instituted a rule against “excessive and premeditated celebration”. That season, he also led the Falcons in receptions and receiving yards.

After an injury in 1986, Billy “White Shoes” Johnson retired following the 1987 season at age 35. He un-retired in 1988 and played one game that season in Washington.

“White Shoes” was named to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary team in 1994, and currently is the only player on that team who has not been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In his 13-year NFL career, he had 3,317 punt return yards and six punt return touchdowns on 282 punt returns and 2,941 yards and two kick return touchdowns on 129 kickoffs. Billy also had 337 receptions, 4,211 yards and 25 touchdowns.

In his post-NFL life, Billy “White Shoes” Johnson was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, spent time as an assistant strength and conditioning coach for the Falcons and served as an assistant football coach at Duluth High School in Duluth, Georgia.

Let me know in the comments below some of your favorite Billy “White Shoes” Johnson memories. As always, you can find me on Twitter @EvanBirchfield. Additionally, make sure to follow @The_Falcoholic on Instagram for up-to-date news and information. Thanks for reading, Falcoholics.