Many of my stories are from when I was younger but as long as I have these memories I’ll consider relating the ones I find interesting. This story is certainly about an interesting (actually incredible) guy I knew who was one of my early (and current) heroes from both an engineering and sports perspective. We all have our heroes and Charley Johnson is one of mine.
I was in college at New Mexico State University. The football team was the Aggies (we all were) because in the early days of NMSU it was an A&M (Agriculture and Mechanical) college. Students learned about soils, cotton, cattle and other farming subjects. It later became a great engineering college.
The quarterback of the football team during my first year there was Charley Johnson. In 1960, he led the Aggies to an undefeated season and a national ranking. He was that good. I believe that was the only time the Aggies had this kind of success. The other thing that impressed me; he was taking Chemical Engineering. He was getting straight A’s. A 4.0 grade point. I had started my college career in Chemical Engineering so I knew it to be a difficult subject. Although I loved chemistry, I changed from Chem E to Electrical Engineering in my sophomore year. Not Johnson. He took the Aggies to the Sun Bowl twice during his tenure at NMSU, winning both games. He was selected as the MVP both times. Impressive for anyone but incredible for an engineering major. There’s more.
Johnson went on to the NFL, initially playing for the St. Louis Cardinals (football team), followed by the Houston Oilers. Although he had a spotty record with these teams, he was picked up by the Denver Broncos in 1972. He took over the starting assignment in 1973 and led the team to its first ever winning season in the 14 years of its existence.
As an active player in the NFL, be began studying for his master’s degree in Chemical Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis. Night classes! There’s more. Johnson was in the United States Army Reserve and was called up to active duty during this period. He was away from the team during the week as an artillery officer, flying back to the team on weekends, throwing touchdown passes. He was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1964 and 1965. There’s more.
Johnson got his master’s degree and began studying for his Doctorate in Chemical Engineering. He achieved this as well. I heard he continued to get straight A’s. Of course.
Later, Johnson went back to NMSU as the Department Head of the Chemical Engineering School and retired just a few years ago. Amazingly, I heard this news while Arlyne and I were passing through Las Cruces (location of the NMSU campus) on our way to California.
It is said of Charley Johnson that it is “unlikely we shall ever see this rare combination of accomplishments again.” He showed how much one person can do if he puts his mind to it.
I actually recalled much of this story from personal observation but also borrowed some of it from Jim Saccomano’s* article, “Charley Johnson, the quarterbacking chemist.”
NOTE: Jim Saccomano recently retired from the Denver Broncos as VP of Corporate Communications, after 36 years.
Thanks for reading my stuff,