Johnnie Gray, Safety

Another unheralded, unknown undrafted free agent took on Willie Wood’s number 24 jersey and free safety slot three years after Wood’s 1972 retirement. Johnnie Gray, born December 18, 1953, signed with Green Bay out of California State-Fullerton in 1975 because he felt there was a spot for him in the Packer secondary. He was right.

The 5’ 11” 185-pound Gray moved into the starting lineup as a rookie and made an immediate impression with his hard hitting. He told the Milwaukee Journal, “Tackling starts out with want and desire. Mostly, it’s just a feeling, a desire to play hard. My big thing is knowing they’ll be coming at you, and you don’t want to get run over. That means you’re being dominated. But I want to dominate the game. I want to play the dominating role.” He also outlined his goals to the Milwaukee Sentinel, “My goals are to lead the team in tackling, interceptions and fumble recoveries. If you’re around the ball, a lot of things will happen. The main thing is to be around the ball all the time.”

Gray was around the ball for Green Bay. He accumulated over 1,000 tackles in his decade with the Packers, recovered 22 fumbles, intercepted 22 passes and led the team in picks in 1976, 1979 and 1980. He never played in a Pro Bowl, but was a solid starter at free safety for six seasons before moving to strong safety in 1981. He missed half that season with a knee injury but returned in 1982. In 1984, a training camp leg muscle injury kept him on the injured list until being activated for the final game, although he did not play that day and retired in the offseason.

(Adapted from Green Bay Gold.)

1975tjgray2  1971kwwood

Custom cards of two Packer safeties who wore 24 with distinction.

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