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Ezra Johnson is introduced as part of the 1982 team honored in the 2012 season opener at Lambeau Field. Raymond T. Rivard photograph

90 days to football: Ezra Johnson the best #90

With 90 days left until the start of the NFL season, our countdown to the big day, Thursday, Sept. 4, when the Green Bay Packers travel to Seattle to take on the Super Bowl Champion Seahawks will focus on the the number that represents the number of days remaining … today it’s #90.

We highly recommend “Packers by the Numbers: Jersey Numbers and the Players Who Wore Them,” by John Maxymuk. The book, which chronicles every Packers jersey number was published in 2003, so it may be a bit incomplete, but it provides a strong background of information about Packers players and their jersey numbers up to that point in time.

Yesterday, we focused on Brian Noble, who was probably the most popular and productive player to wear #91.

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Ezra Johnson was introduced with the 1982 Packers team that was honored at the 2012 season opener. He made light of the “hot dog incident,” something fans loved.
Raymond T. Rivard photograph

But like yesterday’s number, which included failures such as Justin Harrell and Joe Johnsonthere have some players who have worn #90 who had limited careers with the Packers.

B.J. Raji is the current #90 for the Packers and had newcomer Julius Peppers not agreed to take #56, he might have become the newest #90.

See the list below to see some of the players who have worn #90 … some of the names you may remember are Colin Cole, Vonnie Holliday and Tony Bennett. Heck, even Steve McMichael (the former Chicago Bear) stopped by for a cup of coffee in 1994 and wore #90. But there have been some not-so-successful players as well … do you remember Nate Hill, Darius Holland, and Chukie Nwokorie?

Maybe you do, maybe you don’t.

But for us longtime Packers fans, we love to remember defensive end Ezra Johnson. We can forget about the “hot dog incident” that got him into trouble with then-head coach Bart Starr, but it was his play on the field that really stood out for the organization and its fans.

Johnson played 15 years in the NFL, 11 of them in Green Bay. He was a rookie in 1977 when he was given #90. In 1978, he wore #78 before switching back to #90 in 1979 – a number he wore the rest of his career.

Here’s how Maxymuk described Johnson:

During the 1976 season, the Packers finished 21st in points allowed with 299. Bart Starr used his two 1977 first round choices for a pair of defensive ends: Mike Butler of Kansas and Ezra Johnson from the tiny black college of Morris Brown in Atlanta.

Because he came from a small school, it was no surprise that Ezra Johnson was a rough diamond in his rookie year. He did not even know how to get into a three-point stance at first. He was also very small, at 230 pounds, although he would bulk up by 30 pounds in the next few years. In spot duty as a peed-rusher he got 3.5 sacks in his rookie year. In his second year, he pumped up that total to 20.5 sacks and made the Pro Bowl team as an alternate selection. He got five sacks against Detroit in the season opener and kept up the pressure all year..

For most of his first five years, Ezra’s sack total was unoffficial because the league didn’t start counting sacks until 1982. Thus his official lifetime sack total for Green Bay is only 41.5. If you add in ounoficial counts, you get a total of 89.

Ezra was a poular, productive and hard-working member of the team … however, he will be remembered for the “hot dog incident.” In the 1980 exhibition season, Bart Starr was under fire for the team’s performance. The Packers had their first winnings season under him in 1978, but had fallen back to 5-11 in 1979, and the outlook for the 1980 season was not good. In the fifth and final exhibition game against Denver at home, the Packers were in the midst

Bart Starr was a coach much admired by Ezra Johnson. Raymond T. Rivard photograph

Bart Starr was a coach much admired by Ezra Johnson.
Raymond T. Rivard photograph

of losing for the fourth time and enduring their third shoutou when a fan handed Johnson a hot dog on the sideline. Despite the 38-0 score, Johnson was caught eating the hot dog during the game. In the next week, Starr fined Johnson $1,000 and had him apologize to the team. However, Johnson’s positin coach, Fred vanAppen resigned, apparently feeling that he could not coach in an atmosphere so lacking in discipline.

Ezra Johnson survived the hot dog incident and played eight more years in Green Bay, under both Starr, whome he greatly admired, and Forrest Gregg.

Johnson was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1997. Maxymuk said this about Johnson in closing … “[Johnson] was induced into the Packers Hall of Fame as one of the best pass rushers and biggest frankfurter aficionados in team history.

Here are Johnson’s statistics as provided by Pro Football Reference:

 

Here is a list of all the players who have worn #90 for the Packers – it’s provided courtesy of Pro Football Reference - remember these guys?


From
To AV
Tony Bennett 1990 1993 20
Colin Cole 2004 2008 8
Nate Hill 1988 1988 0
Darius Holland 1995 1997 5
Vonnie Holliday 1998 2002 30
Ezra Johnson 1977 1987 34
Willie Manley 1950 1951 0
Steve McMichael 1994 1994 4
Chukie Nwokorie 2003 2003 2
B.J. Raji 2009 2013 28

 

Here is a video of some of the Packers players and coach Bart Starr who were introduced to the fans at the 2012 season opener at Lambeau Field. Johnson and his hot dog are captured here:

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