In Marcus Hook, the ‘White Shoes’ Legend Continues to Rise – Delco Times
MARCUS HOOK — In late summer 2023, far too long after it should have happened, Billy Johnson could be rocking a gold jacket in Canton, Ohio.
That, and the usual. That, and those white shoes.
“That,” said the retired NFL superstar, “would be nice.”
Johnson is the greatest football player ever born in Delaware County, the player of the last millennium, as declared by the Daily schedules in 1999. The Widener graduate was the punt returner for the NFL’s 75th and 100th Anniversary teams, is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and, in recent days, was named a class semifinalist. Township of 2023.
That’s why Johnson’s former teammate at Chichester High, Boog Laird, led a group of Delaware County sports historians in a campaign to erect a “white shoe” statue in his hometown. And that’s why they were all outside the Marcus Hook Community Center on Tuesday, gathering around a backhoe and digging in some more momentum.
Cast in bronze – the shoes, of course, white – the sculpture will be unveiled in October. He will depict Johnson doing in his trademark Chicken Dance, the end zone celebration that, along with his boots, made him the most recognizable returner in football history. It means that while Canton may or may not recognize the former Washington Oilers, Falcons and NFL sensation, his joy for the game will never be lost where the legend began.
“That’s what we’ve been talking about since day one,” Laird said. “We grew up in Hook and most of our families didn’t have two cents to rub shoulders with. But many of us have done well. And Billy is a great example of someone who had a goal and, through hard work, achieved it.
It wasn’t always easy for a 5-foot-9 football player. Despite legendary high school success, power conference college coaches found reasons not to recruit Johnson. So he stayed in Delaware County and played for Bill Manlove, throwing in 62 touchdowns, racking up 5,404 all-purpose yards, and setting nine NCAA records. Even with that, he was only picked in the 15th round of the NFL Draft, No. 365 overall.
“He didn’t like the fact that he went on the last lap,” Laird said. “But he became one of the NFL’s 100 all-time greats. And I hope that inspires local kids to realize that you can be anything you want to be, but you have to work for it.
Laird worked hard to secure more than $100,000 in funding for sculptor Jennifer Frudakis Petry’s seven-foot artwork, which also paid tribute to Delco sports legends Emlen Tunnell and Fredia Gibbs.
“I wish I could sit here and punch my chest and say, ‘I did this’ or ‘I did that,'” Johnson said over the phone from his home in Georgia. “But I couldn’t have done it without the special bond of the guys I played with who watched over me and helped me along the way, especially my parents, Leonard and Katherine.
“I have so many people to be grateful for.”
He should be able to thank them all next summer in Canton, but not before being honored first, just down Market Street in front of the statue of the late Mickey Vernon, the Hook native who led the American League twice. by hitting.
“The whole deal is overwhelming,” said Johnson, who will attend the October unveiling. “These guys did a great job putting this together. I am so honored. With Mickey Vernon being a Marcus Hook guy, being in this kind of business is overwhelming.
The statue is being finished at Laran Bronze in Chester. With the right oxidation, the shoes will be white and represent Johnson’s final midfield celebration.
“I have to say that was the challenge,” said Frudakis-Petry, after posing with a ceremonial shovel. “But it’s more of a dynamic shot, with no static, making it look ‘real’, like it’s in motion.”
It was the suggestion of Manlove, who insists he never remembers seeing Johnson motionless. Manlove was there Tuesday, along with many of Johnson’s relatives, government leaders from Marcus Hook, labor marketers who will contribute time and skills to the project, and members of the fundraising committee, including Jim Vankoski, Phil Damiani, Rich Pagano, Harry Chaykun, Cindi Charney and Ted Cottrell.
“It’s an honor we wanted to give Billy,” Laird said. “We worked behind the scenes with the senior Hall of Fame committee. It’s something that made us try to keep the focus on Billy. We paid tribute to Mickey, who was the Daily schedules Millennial baseball player. We can now honor Billy, the football player of the millennium. So everything will be connected, a Marcus Hook story.
It would be good.
Contact Jack McCaffery at [email protected]