Former Bradley Central Star Bob Johnson Labeled "Ruler Of The Jungle" By Bengals

Was All-State At Bradley Central And All-SEC At Tennessee

Tuesday, August 16, 2022 - by George Starr

Last year the Cincinnati Bengals began the first drive of the 54th season with a simple snap of the ball in honor of its first player ever drafted by team owner Paul Brown. Bob Johnson wore No. 54 on the back of his Bengal jersey for 12 years. 

Johnson won All-State honors at Bradley Central.

He was named All-SEC and was an All-American for Coach Doug Dickey at Tennessee. He is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and was labeled “The Ruler of the Jungle” during the opening ceremony at Paul Brown Stadium last September. 

Johnson, whose younger brothers Tom and Paul also played at UT, laughed at being called the “Ruler”. “I’m an offensive lineman. I’m never in charge,” he is quoted as saying before the ceremony in Cincinnati. "The Ruler," is not only ceremonial, but the Bengals are also making it traditional, and they believe there is no better way to start the home season than the way Paul Brown christened their first draft in history on Jan. 30, 1968 with the simple snap. Johnson’s jersey remains the only one retired by the Bengals. 

The late Paul Brown is reported by as saying, "This is the fellow we planned to take all the way. Johnson seals up our snap problem. To me a center is like a catcher in baseball. It's the heart of your ball club. Pitching and catching. We now have both." 

Current Bengals president Mike Brown said, "My father felt since it was the first pick it had to be someone with character. Bob was a very solid player. During his time here he was always one of the leaders of the team. The other players listened to him because they respected his intelligence, the way he lived his life, the way he practiced and comported himself around the team."  

Two offensive linemen were the first two college players selected in the draft and that may never happen again. The Minnesota Vikings took Ron Yary, a tackle out of USC. “He was one of the big guys (6-5, 260 pounds) for back then,” said Johnson. 

Cincinnati was a member of the American Football League (AFL) before merging with the National Football League (NFL). Before the merger Bob was offered more money to sign with a United States Football League (USFL) team. “I was bluffing signing with the USFL, but the Bengals matched it. I would not have left the NFL and I never considered signing with another team in the NFL over my 12 years in the league,” confessed the loyal Bengal. 

Life was never easy with the Cincinnati club. Bob points out he worked with at least five different quarterbacks during his first two seasons with the Bengals. “One huge shame is that Greg Cook, who we drafted No. 1 in 1969, and who may have been the Joe Burrows of his day, suffered a career-ending shoulder injury on the fourth game of his first year.” Bob suffered one major injury during his 12-year professional career. “I was clipped covering a punt in 1974,” he recalled. “It (the hit) broke my ankle badly and it still isn’t the same.” 

The Bengals posted an 11-3 record in 1975. He played in 154 games, a Pro Bowl, three post-season runs and had an untarnished legacy. After his retirement (1978) Bob was called back when the Bengals’ long-snapper was injured (1979). During his 12-year career Bob was called on to do it all. “In today’s game all teams have designated snappers, so, to my knowledge no other regular (play from scrimmage) center has ever returned (to be a long snapper),” he explained. 

After leaving the playing field at Paul Brown Stadium, Bob worked for the Bengals as a TV analysist before becoming one of Cincinnati’s more successful businessmen for 50 years. He still says he never dreamed of being picked in the draft. “The only team that contacted me before the draft was Chicago and they were picking (16th) and planning to switch me to defense,” Bob is quoted as saying after the draft. He was taken in front of Claude Humphrey and Larry Csonka (8th) in the same draft. 

Bob and his wife Ann have great tickets to the home games, but he only attends about one a year. Instead, he watches the Bengal center and offensive line closely. He notes that QB Burrows is the real deal but the right guard and tackle were not good enough in the playoffs last season. “I’m told the Bengals have acquired both a right guard and tackle in free agency,” he added. 

Bob, Tom, and Paul continue to follow the Vols and all three plan to join older brother Bill at the UT, UT Martin game (Oct. 22).  “I think Coach (Josh) Heupel has the program going in the right direction, but it takes an unusually talented coach to move up in the SEC,” admitted Bob. “I look at the competition in the SEC now, Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Texas A&M, etc. When I started at Tennessee, we were at the bottom of the SEC. Coach Doug Dickey was that rare, but talented coach. He was tough, a motivator and tactician leader. It is a difficult job.” 

Tom makes his home in Cleveland and is closer to the program. “I really like the direction coach Heupel has the program headed,” he said. “I look at the schedule and see us winning eight or nine games, maybe more. I see the excitement back. I always enjoy spending time with my brothers in Knoxville. We try to get together up there at least once a year.” 

Paul, who lives in California, continues to keep in touch with his old UT teammates and they remain close friends. “My freshman year was 1972, and we signed 42 players that I spent time in training, practice, meals and fun with,” he recalled. “I know their families etc. and Facebook helps. I also come to Knoxville in the spring for letterman’s golf and the spring game. I am so encouraged by the offense. (Hendon) Hooker is athletic and accurate. I hope for eight with a surprise win over a quality program.” 

Bob feels Paul was the best overall athlete of the three sons. “He was a good basketball player and talented outside linebacker,” the older brother remembered. “He was moved to center probably because he’d been taught by Tom and me. He went to Knoxville and whipped everyone in basketball.” 

Paul is also fired up about the current Volunteer football program. “I always watch Tennessee on TV in all sports and wear my orange on golf courses in California,” he stressed. “So many California people are now moving or considering moving to Tennessee. I have grandkids in California and Texas so I will stay close to them. My son Adam was a quarterback and long snapper at Buffalo. He also played in NFL for four years for Carolina and Kansas City as long snapper. Bob’s son was a linebacker and long snapper for Indiana University.” 

In closing Paul said, “Bob was the best role model for Tom and I. I worked hard but never as hard as Bob who always lifted weights.” 

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