METAIRIE, La. -- Vaughan Johnson, a member of the New Orleans Saints' legendary "Dome Patrol" linebacking corps, died Thursday night at age 57 in North Carolina, according to Saints Hall of Fame general manager Ken Trahan.
The four-time Pro Bowler had been battling kidney disease for several years and lung failure most recently, according to Trahan's report for CrescentCitySports.com.
"The thoughts and prayers of the organization are with Vaughan Johnson's family after his passing," said the Saints via statement released Friday. "Not only was Vaughan a force on the field in the middle of the 'Dome Patrol' defense, but he was a gentle giant off of it. An underrated defender in the middle of a dominant defense, he quickly became a fan favorite and the respect he garnered league-wide among his peers is evidenced by his four consecutive Pro Bowl selections."
Johnson began his career with the USFL's Jacksonville Bulls in 1984-85 before spending eight seasons with the Saints and one with the Philadelphia Eagles. Known as a punishing hitter, the 6-foot-3, 235-pounder finished his career with 669 tackles, 12 sacks and 11 forced fumbles.
Denver Broncos coach Vic Fangio, who was Johnson's position coach in New Orleans, told ESPN's Chris Mortensen: "He was a great teammate, loved by everyone. He was a ferocious hitter and great all around ILB. And feared by the RBs in the league when he played. Ask Roger Craig."
Johnson is the second member of the Dome Patrol to die at an early age, following Sam Mills, who died of intestinal cancer 45 in 2005.
Pro Football Hall of Famer Rickey Jackson and Pat Swilling were the other two members of the fierce foursome, which produced a combined 18 Pro Bowl selections among them. They made history in 1992 by all being selected to the Pro Bowl together.
"He was one of the best players and best people I ever played with," Jackson told Crescent City Sports. "He was never fighting with anyone, the most generous guy I ever knew. He loved everybody. He was the greatest teammate I ever had. He would hit so hard. He was a great player and a great man. I am truly going to miss him. He was my brother. He was more than a teammate. He was my great friend for life."