Wednesday 31 May 2023

RIP: Jim Brown

Shortly after I finished my last post, I heard the news that Jim Brown had passed away the night before.

I wasn't as affected as much as I have been when other athletes that I had cheered for passed away, but I was still saddened at the loss of the greatest Browns player, and the argument can be made for the greatest NFL player, to play the game.

I'm too young to have seen Jim Brown play. I have seen many videos of his play, and have read many books and articles about him. I have heard and read so many stories.

The one thing that always struck me in any video that I saw of him was his presence. You could sense that he was the focus of the room, and the stories that I heard on the NFL Network the night his passing was announced helped confirm that feeling. One story said that as the Hall of Famers gathered every year for the new inductions, that all of the running backs would always gather towards Jim Brown, to talk to him, to be in his presence.

This presence can be seen on the screen in the movies and television shows that I saw him in, and I'm sure that this presence is what made people take him seriously in the social causes that he fought for.

Jim Brown attended Syracuse University, where he played football, basketball, lacrosse, and competed in the decathlon. He wasn't given a scholarship for his first year for his first year at Syracuse, but had a benefactor (a former Syracuse lacrosse star) that persuaded the college to admit him, and then financed his first year there.

Many stories and articles have said that Jim Brown was a better lacrosse player than football player. He is a member of the Lacrosse Hall of Fame, as well as the College Football Hall of Fame, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Looking at my Jim Brown card collection, I am pretty sure that this is the first Jim Brown card that I owned. I was so happy when I discovered a local convenience store selling the 1991 Enor Pro Football Hall of Fame cards. I always enjoyed reading about the legends of sports, and enjoyed being able to buy cards of football Hall of Famers.

When the 1992 All World football set came out, I was thrilled that there were a number of Jim Brown cards in it to collect. I remember buying quite a bit of it, hoping to pull one of the Jim Brown autograph cards, but had no success. I enjoyed the action shots of Jim Brown that they used on his cards.

Over the years, I've seen stories about Jim Brown either talking about various Browns running backs, or about Jim Brown talking with those running backs. One common item in these stories seemed to be Brown telling the running backs that they shouldn't be running out of bounds with the ball. From what I have heard, he didn't like doing that, he would always try for the extra yards. If one of his carries was going to end with him going out of bounds, it would be because he was pushed out by the defense. As I said, I I'll have to assume that is how he played.

This 1964 Philadelphia card is probably my favorite card from Jim Brown's playing career. There is a great article from Sports Collectors Digest that talks about Brown's pink Cadillac in the background of the card.

One common thing that I've read or heard about Jim Brown's career was about his durability. He didn't miss a game while playing for the Browns.

Many defensive players have told stories about how after they tackled Jim Brown hard, he would be slow to get up, and would limp back to the huddle. They thought they may have dinged him up, and that he might be slowed down from the tackle. Then they would tell how he would take the next carry, blow through the defense, and score a touchdown, not looking affected in the least by their tackle.

During the NFL Network's tributes, I believe it was Rich Eisen who related a story about Merlin Olsen, about asking him what player he hit the hardest during his career. To summarize the story, Olsen claims he hit Jim Brown the hardest during one of his carries, and was sure that he would get up to see Brown still down on the ground, only to get himself up and see that Brown had continued on with his rush and scored a touchdown.

Teammates said that they never saw Jim Brown in the training room being treated for anything. Stories came out after his career that he would show up really early in the day, and be treated before anyone else showed up for the day. He kept the mystique that he was never hurt. 

The only relic card I own of Jim Brown is a stadium seat card like this one. It is really a Municipal Stadium relic, not a Jim Brown one. I don't own any cards with his autograph either. Eventually I will have to add one to my collection.

As a kid, I had heard of Jim Brown, and knew that he was a football player, but I first saw him as an actor in The Dirty Dozen, watching it on tv with my dad. At the time, I didn't know that filming going into training camp, and Art Modell going to fine him for every day that he was late was what caused him to retire early from his football career.

I've always claimed that his role of Jefferson in The Dirty Dozen showed what a good actor that Jim Brown was. Jefferson was cut down by a hail of machine gun bullets. Jim Brown wouldn't have been.

To be serious though, I don't recall any Jim Brown acting roles that I disliked, although that could be because I haven't seen all his roles, and because I also enjoy cheezy guest spots on tv shows and the like.

Jim Brown had two roles in movies that I saw, and loved, during their release in the theaters. He was Fireball in The Running Man, and I knew that he wasn't going to beat Arnie, the protagonist of the movie. 

My favorite Jim Brown role, though, has to be as the retired boxer/casino greeter in Mars Attacks! I loved seeing him cracking the Martians helmets as he fought with them, and being swarmed by them during the movie.

I really don't know what to say about Jim Brown as a person. He had some incidents where he lost his temper that I don't know enough about to comment on. 

I also only really know the basics of his activism, and I am very grateful that he dedicated so much of himself to his beliefs.

I appreciate that he pulled together so many great black athletes to support Muhammad Ali. 

I'm happy to hear of the time he spent in the south letting Black business owners of the Black Economic Union that he had founded to help provide opportunities and aid to minority owned businesses.

There was also his founding of Amer-I-Can, which helped gang members and prisoners learn life skills, to try and turn them away from trouble in their lives. And his bringing gang leaders to his house, neutral territory, to figure out how to proceed without violence and trouble.

Jim Brown was not just a great football player, but a great man who lived by and acted on his own convictions. The world is a poorer place without him in it.

Rest in Peace.


  1. Nice tribute. Like you, I never saw him play and only have seen the grainy footage that doesn't always reflect how great he was. I was fortunate to shake hands with him once on the sideline of a Syracuse game, which was a very cool moment. He's still revered at the university, both for his accomplishments and starting the tradition of great RBs wearing #44 there.

  2. I've seen lots of his game footage over the years, but for me growing up he was more actor than athlete. It's not his best role, but my favorite film that he's in is Ice Station Zebra.