Ex-Saints “Dome Patrol” linebacker Johnson dead at 57

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The New Orleans Saints say former Pro Bowl linebacker Vaughan Johnson, who was a member of the club’s vaunted “Dome Patrol” linebacker corps, has died at age 57.

Johnson played in college at North Carolina State and began his pro career with the Jacksonville Bulls of the United State Football League before the Saints selected him in the first round of a USFL supplemental draft in 1986.

Johnson played in 120 regular season games with 98 starts for the Saints from 1986 to 1993, when he had 664 tackles, 12 sacks, four interceptions and five fumble recoveries.

Johnson was selected to the Pro Bowl from 1989-92 and was inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame in 2000. In the last of those season, the entire Saints starting group of Johnson, Rickey Jackson, Sam Mills and Pat Swilling became the only group of four linebackers selected to the Pro Bowl together.

The Saints allowed the fewest opponent points per game that season and ranked second in total defense.

In a statement on Friday, the Saints say Johnson was a fan favorite who’ll be remembered as “a force on the field in the middle of the ‘Dome Patrol’ defense,” and “a gentle giant” off the field.

Johnson was a spokesman for Goodwill charities and used donation tied to his tackle totals to support “Operation Happy Child,” which provided Christmas gifts to underprivileged children.

Saints Hall of Fame general manager Ken Trahan said Johnson had been struggling with kidney and lung failure before his death on Thursday evening.