Brown was hard to bring down

Brown was golden on the field
By Larry Schwartz
Special to

"I'm not interested in trying to work on people's perceptions. I am who I am, and if you don't take the time to learn about that, then your perception is going to be your problem," says Jim Brown on ESPN's SportsCentury show.

Signature game
Nov. 1, 1959 -- What happened when one team had the best running back in NFL history and the other team had arguably the greatest quarterback?

Baltimore's Johnny Unitas gave a magnificent performance, throwing for four touchdowns and 397 yards. It wasn't enough.

Brown ran for five touchdowns and 178 yards on 32 carries in leading the Cleveland Browns to a 38-31 upset of the defending NFL champions in Baltimore. His first score was a 70-yard run in which he swiveled through the Colts' highly touted defensive line and then flattened defensive back Ray Brown. His other touchdowns were from 17 yards, three and two smashes from the one.

"I guess this is my most satisfying day," said the 230-pound bruiser who sported a tiny scratch at the side of his nose as a victory badge. "There's nothing like beating the champs. I do my best all the time, but I just may have been hitting with a little something extra out there today."

Odds and ends

  • At Manhasset High School on Long Island, Brown was elected chief justice of the student court, meting out punishment to kids who violated school rules.

  • At Syracuse, Brown finished fifth at the national decathlon championship.

  • Brown finished fifth in voting for the Heisman Trophy as a senior in 1956. Notre Dame quarterback Paul Hornung won the award.

  • In his three years at Syracuse, with the team only playing eight regular-season games each season, Brown ran for 2,091 yards on 361 carries, a 5.8 average with 23 touchdowns.

  • Though Brown didn't play basketball his senior year at Syracuse (he averaged 15 points as a sophomore and 11.3 as a junior), he was drafted by the Syracuse Nats of the NBA.

  • In one day during the spring of '57, he scored 13 points in a track meet and then helped the lacrosse team beat Army to conclude an undefeated season.

  • After being drafted in the first round by Cleveland in December 1956, the fullback signed for $15,000, including a $3,000 bonus.

  • When Brown set his then-NFL record of 1,863 yards rushing in 1963, he was 845 yards ahead of the No. 2 runner that season, Jim Taylor.

  • Before the 1964 season, former Cleveland quarterback Otto Graham lashed out at Brown's blocking ability and said Cleveland would not win anything as long as Brown was there. Cleveland won the NFL championship that season.

  • In his last game, Brown scored three touchdowns in the Pro Bowl on Jan. 15, 1966 and for the third time was voted the outstanding back. He played in the Pro Bowl every season, starting all but one.

  • Cleveland had a regular-season record of 79-34-5 with Brown.

  • He ran for more than 200 yards four times (only O.J. Simpson [six] did it more). Brown's 237 yards as a rookie in 1957 (and tied in 1961) set an NFL record.

  • Explaining why he quit at 30 while still at the top of his game: "I got out before I ever had to be like so many other guys I've seen - sitting hunched over on the bench, all scarred and banged up, watching some hot young kid out there in their place."

  • Brown was the first African-American athlete to successfully cross over into films.

  • He was inducted into the Pro Football of Fame on the same day (July 31, 1971) as Vince Lombardi.

  • When Franco Harris was approaching his record 12,312 yards rushing in 1983, Brown, 47, said he would consider coming out of retirement. But it was just talk, and Brown never attempted a comeback.

  • Brown still holds NFL rushing records for most seasons leading the league (eight), most consecutive seasons leading the league (five), most seasons leading in attempts (six) and most seasons leading in touchdowns (six). His 5.22 yards per rush is the highest average gain with players having a minimum of 750 attempts.