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Spotlighting former Needham standout athlete Eric Johnson

By Mike Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor

One could certainly call Eric Johnson accomplished. Born and raised in Needham, Johnson attended both Needham High School and Belmont Hill, where he played football as a wide receiver, as well as basketball. Johnson’s efforts on the gridiron and in the classroom helped him earn an offer to play football and attend Yale University. 

As a junior in 1999, Johnson and the Bulldogs faced off against Harvard in their annual rivalry game with Yale, needing a win in order to earn a share of the Ivy League title. Johnson put together a career day, recording 21 receptions for 244 yards and scored the game-winning touchdown with just 29 seconds remaining in a 24-21 comeback victory for Yale. The record-breaking performance caught not only national attention, but also the attention of NFL scouts. 

Along with setting Yale’s single-game receptions and single-game receiving yards records, Johnson also holds the Yale record for receptions in a season, catching 86 balls for 1,007 yards as a senior in 2000. Johnson also holds the Yale receiving records for consecutive games with a touchdown (eight in 2000), most career touchdowns (23) and single-season touchdowns (14 in 2000). 

Originally an American Studies major with no intention of playing football professionally, Johnson decided to hire an agent and enter the 2001 NFL Draft, where he was slated to go un-drafted. To the surprise of some, Johnson was drafted in the seventh round (No. 224 overall) by the San Francisco 49ers. 

San Francisco GM Bill Walsh drafted Johnson with the intent of converting him into a tight end. Walsh watched Johnson’s highlight tape from college and saw attributes similar to the skillset of former All-Pro Brent Jones (three Super Bowl titles, three-time All-Pro, four-time Pro Bowler), who also made the switch from wide receiver to tight end for the 49ers. 

Johnson signed a three-year contract with San Francisco and quickly worked his way up the depth chart. As a rookie in 2001, Johnson amassed 40 receptions for 362 yards and three touchdowns. After missing all of 2003 due to injury, Johnson put together a career year in 2004 which saw him lead the team in receiving (82 receptions, 825 yards, two touchdowns, 10.06 YPC). After missing all of 2005 due to injury, Johnson returned for San Francisco in 2006 where he caught 34 balls for 292 yards and two touchdowns. After signing with the New Orleans Saints as a free agent in 2007, Johnson secured 48 catches for 378 yards and two touchdowns. In 2008, Johnson was released by the Saints and retired from the NFL. 

Since retiring from football, Johnson has gained even more notoriety after marrying supermodel and actress Jessica Simpson in 2014. The couple currently resides in California with their three children, a son and two daughters. 

For funny and incisive sports analysis as well as game highlights, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter and Instagram @flano0.

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