"I asked him if it would be all right if I wore his number in the last game," Johnson said, "and he told me he would be honored."
Nobis, the Vice President of Corporate Development for the Atlanta Falcons, met Johnson for the first time when he attended Texas' historic 56-35 comeback win over Oklahoma State. Otherwise, Johnson had only seen Nobis play in grainy film clips back in the day when studs like Nobis started on both sides of the ball. Nobis finished 7th in the 1965 Heisman balloting, the only defensive player listed in that season's top 10 finishers.
"It's really not about me," Johnson said. "It's about (1962 All-American) Johnny Treadwell, Tommy Nobis and other great guys to wear that number. The defense is what is represented."
Along with Treadwell and Nobis, Jeff Leiding (1983) and Brit Hager (1988) are the other Longhorn All-Americans to wear the number. Robin Sendlein (1980), Brian Jones (1990) and Dusty Renfro (1999 Cotton Bowl) also sported No. 60 for the Horns.
The thing that impressed Johnson most about Nobis was his "dedication" and his being "a student of the game," he said Monday.
"That's all he mostly talked about when I talked to him," Johnson said. "He's the type of person that could turn on the switch, between on-or-off the field. He's real calm and a nice person off the field. Everything about him, his character, was great. He told me that character could take you a long way."
Based on the decades-old game film, Johnson described Nobis' on-the-field persona as "mean, real mean. Like he had a chip on his shoulder. I think he represents the great linebackers."
Previously, Johnson said he did not want to wear No. 60 because of the added pressure the jersey places on athletes. Obviously, as Johnson's collegiate career draws to a close, he has more than lived up to billing. He has lived up to No. 60. Already a Butkus Award finalist this season, Johnson leads Texas with 118 tackles including 17 TFL. His eight forced fumbles is tied for first on the NCAA all-time single season list. He is Texas' first consensus All-American linebacker since 1983 (Leiding).
Johnson intends to only wear Number 60 against A&M before wearing his usual jersey in the bowl game. It's just that Johnson has so raised the bar defensively that head coach Mack Brown speculates that some day future Longhorns may want to wear number 11 to honor another Texas great.
"I'm really excited that a guy in 2004 cares enough about tradition that he would send a message," Brown said. "He wanted to wear it for all the great defensive players at The University of Texas. I think that's a neat message. I worry some that we don't have as much feeling of tradition for some of the young guys as we used to. I think it's a great way for him to finish his last game here. And I know David McWilliams and Coach Royal will be excited about it. Tommy will be too, I'm sure."