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Posted on Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 8:58 a.m.

Former Michigan great Ron Johnson, 63, battles Alzheimer's disease

By Staff

Ron Johnson, an All-American running back who played with the Michigan football team from 1966-68, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2008.

Today, he is 63 years old and lives in a care facility in New Jersey. Johnson's early onset of the disease and his reliance on the National Football League's 88 Plan to pay for his care was featured Sunday in The New York Times.

Johnson's story is told through the eyes of his wife of 37 years, Karen, who cares for him daily. She's convinced the hits he took as a football player contributed to his disease, and she figures there soon will be a growing need for more facilities to care for patients like Ron Johnson.

Karen Johnson also recalls how she met Johnson in March 1967. Johnson rushed for 2,524 yards at Michigan in 24 games. Three times he topped 200 yards rushing in a game while at Michigan, with his most memorable game coming against Wisconsin in 1968 when he scored five touchdowns while rushing for 347 yards.

Johnson went on to play seven seasons in the NFL, six of them with the New York Giants. He finished his career with 4,308 rushing yards, 1,977 receiving yards and 55 touchdowns.


Ann English

Tue, Sep 20, 2011 : 11:35 p.m.

So we can rule out concussions as factors in causing Alzheimer's. We all can decrease our chances of getting it by limiting the aluminum in our blood streams; be careful about your cookware's condition!


Fri, Aug 24, 2012 : 3:35 a.m.

No, we cannot rule out concussion as a factor in causing Alzheimer's.

Paul Jones

Tue, Sep 20, 2011 : 8:13 p.m.

The New York Times article about Ron Johnson sheds more light on how Alzheimer's affects a family. Even a legendary athlete and humanitarian like Mr. Johnson and his family could not escape the consequences of the disease. The costs for treating a person with advanced Alzheimer's is, relatively speaking, not that expensive. Unfortunately the disease is so debilitating that family members eventually can no longer care for their loved ones. The difficult decision is often made to place the family member in a faculty that can provide 24/7 care and supervision. In care facility treatment of Alzheimer's patients is very expensive. Fortunately for Ron Johnson and his family, he is receiving quality care and treatment. N.F.L. insurance plan pays for almost all of his in-care costs. He is more fortunate than the average Alzheimer's patient. The article makes it clear that Mr. Johnson Alzheimer's was probably not a result of the "pounding he took while playing football." His mother and brother were stricken with the disease. Still, because Mr. Johnson was a player in the NFL, he is covered by its insurance plan. The average person who has Alzheimer's does not have access to the support that Mr. Johnson is receiving. The Times article about Ron Johnson and the one written about Coach Pat Summit help to remove the stigma of just having the disease. Both articles educate the public about the Alzheimer's and put a face on the disease.

Larry Weisenthal

Tue, Sep 20, 2011 : 5:49 a.m.

I was at the Wisconsin game in 1968 when Johnson ran for 347 yards. It was truly a cold, wet miserable day. Did I say wet? Solid, mid-winter-Seattle-type steady downpour for virtually all of the game. I was sitting in the student section and there were not just empty seats but empty rows of seats all around me and all around the stadium, in the 2nd half. It was that bad. I don't know about the others, but I hung around for one reason only and that was to watch Ron make history. It was just amazing. Almost every time he touched the ball (it seems from memory), he ran from wherever he took the handoff straight to the Wisconsin end zone. Boom. He was gone. I remember only three things from the 1968 season (my first year in med school): (1) My future bride's visit from Kentucky to watch the homecoming game against Minnesota, where we both dressed up in going to church type of clothes, and I bought her a special homecoming game corsage with a blue pipe cleaner 'M' over a big yellow carnation (isn't that positively quaint?), (2) Ron Johnson running all over Wisconsin on that miserable day, and (3) hearing that Woody went for 2 to make it 50, from a passerby, when I emerged from the library where I'd been studying for an exam. And now he's got Alzheimer's? Has it really been that long ago? - Larry Weisenthal/Huntington Beach, CA


Tue, Sep 20, 2011 : 1:11 a.m.

..Best Wishes to Mr. Johnson and his Family.. a Wolverine Great.. Go Blue! v


Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 6:04 p.m.

This is the first I've heard of this, all the best to Ron, his wife, and family. I went with Brad Van Pelt and his brother to MSU that day that Ron Johnson ran over Wisconsin. I carried my "transistor radio" with me as I listened to Ufer every game since the 1964 Rose Bowl team. I think the next weekend M was rolled by Ohio when Woody infamously went for the 2 point conversion when sitting on 48 points. I was always happy to hear Ron Johnson's name running for the NYG. God Speed. (Happily, MSU was crushed by Purdue that day as Leroy Keyes ran wild. Brad took us into the Spartan lockerroom to meet Duffy, who managed a cordial smile on his face and reminded Brad how much they wanted him at MSU. I'm convinced it was primarily the low key approach of Duffy why Brad chose MSU over UM, or any of the other 200 schools who wrote him. Brad passed away too young two and a half years ago from a sudden heart attack at age 57.)


Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 3:46 p.m.

I watched Ron play several times, Ron was a football players player. My opinion is that Ron got lost in the shuffle because we lost that 68 game against Ohio state , Jim Otis took center stage for Ohio state only because they won and the next year 69, Bo came on board and changed Michigans history almost overnight. If Michigan had a Ron Johnson type on this 2011 team I would venture to say our chances of a 9-10 win season would rise dramatically, this man was a football player. I do not believe there is one tailback in the BTN that could equall Ron in production this year. When I saw this article it immediately brought 2 powerful emotions, One it brought a smile to me thinking of this great and good man and Wolverine and 2 it brought a bit of sadness, I once cared for my grandmother who died from this affliction so I understand what his family is experiancing. Ron Johnson, you are a great Michigan Wolverine, God Bless You and your family.