James Nathaniel Brown was born on Feb. 17, 1936, in St. Simons, Georgia. His father, Swinton Brown, was a professional boxer, and his mother, Theresa, was a homemaker. Brown’s family moved to Manhasset, New York, on Long Island, living with his grandmother and mother. Jim was a standout at the local high school, Manhasset Secondary School, earning 13 letters in his four years – football, lacrosse, baseball, basketball – and running track. He had a record 38 points per game average in basketball at Manhasset. He died this week.
Jim entered Syracuse University as a phenom in 1953. In 1954, his sophomore year, he was the second leading rusher on the football team. As a junior he rushed for 666 yards, 5.2 average yards per carry and was selected as a Second-team All American. In 1956, as a senior, Brown set the University record for the highest season rushing average, 6.2, and the most touchdowns in a single game, 6. As a running back he rushed for 986 yards, which was third best in the nation, and scored 14 touchdowns. Syracuse only played eight games that season, and Jim in the regular season finale rushed for six touchdowns and 197 yards, and also kicked seven extra points for a University record of 43 points in a single game in a 61-7 rout of Colgate. That year he was a consensus first team All-American and finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting. The Orangemen went to the Cotton Bowl, where he rushed for 132 yards, scored three touchdowns and kicked three extra points. A blocked extra point after the Syracuse touchdown led to a 28-27 loss to Texas Christian University.
He was a multi athlete at Syracuse; he excelled in basketball, track and lacrosse, in addition to his football talents. His sophomore season he had a 15-points-per-game average and was the second highest scorer for the team. He lettered in track and was fifth in the National Championship decathlon. As a junior he averaged 11.3 PPG in basketball and was a second-team All American in lacrosse. As a senior he was a first-team All American in lacrosse, scoring 43 goals in 10 games to rank second in scoring nationally. He was inducted into the Lacrosse Hall of Fame. In the Carrier Dome at Syracuse there is an 800 square foot tapestry showing Brown in both football and lacrosse uniforms and the words “Greatest Player Ever.”
Jim Brown was selected as the sixth overall selection in the first round by the Cleveland Browns. As a rookie he rushed for 237 yards against the Los Angeles Rams, which set a record unsurpassed for 14 seasons and a rookie record that remained for 40 years. In 1958 he broke the single season rushing record, dashing off to 1,527 yards in a 12-game season. This was another record for Brown, and he was selected not only as an ALL-Pro but also the league Most Valuable Player. To cap the season, he set another record of 17 touchdowns.
When he retired from the NFL after the 1965 season, he left as the record holder of single season rushing, 1,863 in 1963, and career rushing of 12,312 yards, and 126 total touchdowns. He had 15,549 total yards in the NFL. Jim led the league in rushing a record eight times. He was selected to the Pro Bowl each of his nine seasons and scored three touchdowns in his final year.
With Brown leading the way, Cleveland won the NFL Championship in 1964, and was runner-up in 1957 and 1965.
His next life force was acting in films. Before the 1964 season, he played a buffalo soldier in the Western film “Rio Conchos.” He was next in a film shot in London in 1966, MGM’s “Dirty Dozen,” where he was cast as a convict sent to France during World War II to assassinate German officers before the D-Day invasion. He played a villain in a 1967 episode of “I Spy” and was signed to a multi-film contract by MGM. He got his first leading role in the film “The Split” in 1969 and followed it with “Riot,” a prison film. Jim appeared in 44 films, including the movie “100 Rifles.”
In the 80s he mostly appeared in television shows, including “Knight Rider” and “CHiPs.” He teamed up with Vin Scully and George Allen as a color analyst in CBS football games. His autobiography, “Out of Bounds,” was published in 1989 by Zebra Books, co-written by Steve Delsohn, and Brown was the subject of the book “Jim: The Author’s Self-Centered Memoir of the Great Jim Brown” by James Toback.
The Sporting News selected Jim Brown as the Greatest Football Player of All Time in 2002, and he was also selected for the same honor in 2014 by the New York Daily News, which anyone who saw him play will agree. I remember seeing him play on television in the 60s and was always astonished by his capabilities.
(Editor’s Note: Bill Stewart, who is better known to Saugus Advocate readers as “The Old Sachem,” writes a weekly column about sports – and sometimes he opines on current or historical events or famous people.)