Grambling community remembers three Tiger legends

Funeral services were held for three Grambling State University former Tiger football players who recently turned in their equipment for the final time. A service for James “Hound Dog” Hunter was held on Thursday, Aug. 5 at Hope United Methodist Church in Southfield, Mich. A second service was held in Silsbee Texas at the Silsbee High School Auditorium. He died of an apparent massive heart attack Monday, Aug. 2. He was 56 years old.

Services for Gary Lynn “Big Hands” Johnson, 57, will be held Saturday, Aug. 14 at First Baptist Church of Bossier in Bossier City. Johnson, who suffered a stroke in July, passed away Wednesday, Aug. 4 at the LSU Medical Center, in Shreveport. He was a former long-time Senior Executive Host at Horseshoe Team for 13 years.

Hunter got his “Hound Dog” nickname for his long-striding running ability. As the story goes, Johnson acquired his nickname during an 8th grade PE class when he attempted to pick up a basketball. His coach blared out, “Get your big hands off my basketball,” and “Big Hands” was born.

From 1971 to 1975, the defensive play of James “Hound Dog” Hunter and Gary “Big Hands” Johnson helped propel Grambling State University football teams to five Southwestern Athletic Conference championships and one National Black College Football title.

Together, the two defensive stars battled Grambling opponents from Honolulu to Yankee Stadium. While the quick and powerful Johnson was redefining defensive tackle from 1971 to 1974, defensive back Hunter entertained fans from 1972 to 1975 with his tough play and burning return speed. After earning All-America honors, both were NFL first round draft selections. Johnson went to San Diego in 1974 and the Detroit Lions selected Hunter a year later.

Hunter made an instant impact in the NFL. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound cornerback led the Lions with seven pass interceptions and was runner-up to future Pro Football Hall of Famer Mike Haynes as NFL Rookie Defensive Player of the Year.

He led the Lions in interceptions in three of his seven seasons with the team and had 27 in his career, which ended because of a neck injury in 1982. He began working for Anheuser-Busch in 1985.

“James Hunter shall always be remembered as a consummate pro — on and off the field,” team president Tom Lewand said in a statement. “He made a significant impact on the field, in the community, as a businessman, as a business partner with the Lions in recent years, and as a husband and father. On behalf of the William Clay Ford family and the entire Lions’ organization, I extend deepest sympathies to James’ wife Emmalene, son Javin and their family.”

Detroit drafted him with the 10th pick overall in 1976. He had career-high seven interceptions in his debut season and was NFL Rookie of the Year runner-up behind future Hall of Famer Mike Haynes. He shifted to left cornerback in 1977 playing alongside another future Pro Football Hall of Famer, Lem Barney.

“He was a great athlete and a great guy,” said Barney, who helped mentor Hunter when he came to the Lions. “I thought I had a lot of energy until I met James. He was always upbeat; always had an encouraging word. He will be sorely missed.”

In his seven seasons with the Lions (1976-82), Hunter led Detroit in three seasons in pass interceptions (1976, ’77 and ’80) and had 27 career interceptions. He played in 86 Lions games before a neck injury sustained late in the 1982 season ended his career.

Johnson, who was a four-time Pro Bowl selectee, played for the Chargers from 1975-84 and still holds the franchise record of 17.5 sacks set in 1980. Johnson played during the Don “Air” Coryell era and was part of the group known as the “Bruise Brothers” along with Leroy Jones, Fred Dean and Louie Kelcher.

Later traded to the San Francisco 49ers, Johnson was voted the Sports Illustrated unofficial defensive “MVP” in Super Bowl XIX, which the 49ers won. The Bossier City native is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, the San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame and the Louisiana, Grambling State University and SWAC halls of fame.

“Gary was the most sincere, tender-hearted gentleman and we will all remember his wonderful sense of humor. He was loved by many and will be sorely missed. He leaves behind a wife, a son, a daughter, and two young granddaughters who meant the world to him. Gary was the epitome of a hard-working and genuine person and he, undoubtedly, touched the lives of many people. We’re lucky to have known a true Legend,” said Mike Rich, general manager at Harrah’s Louisiana Downs and Horseshoe Casino and Hotel.

Funeral service was held Thursday, Aug. 12 at the Metropolitan Community Church in Birmingham, Ala. for Tiger # 50 Rufus Harris. He passed away on Sunday, Aug. 8 after a lengthy illness.

Harris was a part of the 1960 SWAC Co-championship team Coached by Eddie G. Robinson. He played Center for GSU Tigers from 1958 until 1961 before graduating in 1962. Harris had a long football career in the Canadian league.

He was a football coach and teacher for 30 years serving at Ramsay, A.H. Parker, and G.W. Carver High Schools in Birmingham.

He was a Grambling University National Alumni Association (GUNAA) Regional Representative, a long-time member of the association, who will be missed for his love for his university, wisdom and composure.

GSU’s Public Relations Office and The Associated Press contributed to this report.