Jim Brown's 9-year run was one for the books 'Most devastating' back set standards in NFL

Greatest player

November 10, 1995|By Drake Witham | Drake Witham,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Jim Brown went on to become the most devastating runner in NFL history, but in 1957 the Cleveland Browns didn't even want him.

After the team suffered its first losing season, coach Paul Brown wanted to draft Purdue quarterback Len Dawson to upgrade his offense. But two coin flips dropped Cleveland to sixth in the draft, and the Browns had to "settle" for the Syracuse halfback.

It didn't take long for Paul Brown to realize he had a special player. He changed his pass-oriented offense to suit the powerful running back and, one year after finishing 5-7, Cleveland went 9-2-1. Brown led the NFL in rushing with 942 yards, and on Nov. 24 ran all over the Los Angeles Rams for a league-record 237 yards.

"He was a marvelous athlete," said Lou Groza, who blocked for Brown on the Cleveland line. "He wasn't the same type of back as Marion Motley, who would just run over people. Jim used to avoid direct hits, but he could take punishment."

After that first season, in which the Browns dropped the title game to the Detroit Lions by a 59-14 score, Brown said he believed he and other players took too much punishment from their coach. Always critical, Paul Brown didn't think he worked hard enough in practice and didn't block for other players.

With Bobby Mitchell joining Brown in the backfield the next year, Cleveland had a potent running attack and started 5-0. In early November, Mitchell fumbled three times in a loss to the New York Giants and was benched. Jim Brown disagreed with the benching, and the relationship between the two Browns deteriorated further.

The coach never questioned Brown's ability to run the ball, though. And that's what the Browns did. With Brown setting the NFL single-season rushing mark with 1,527 yards, Cleveland made the postseason in 1958 with a 9-3 record. The Giants stopped the Browns in the playoffs, 10-0, limiting them to 24 yards rushing.

The next season, Brown again led the league in rushing but the team went 7-5. Their record improved to 8-3-1 in 1960, but the player-coach relationship worsened. The stringent rules and army-like discipline that had worked for Brown at every level of coaching were now resented by his players. Plum hated having every play call sent in from the coach.

In 1961, Art Modell purchased the team for $4 million and promised to keep the football side of his new business venture in the hands of Paul Brown. But like his star running back, Modell soon had problems with the coach, and Cleveland struggled through an 8-5-1 campaign.

Looking for a strong back to pair with Brown, Paul Brown traded Mitchell to the Washington Redskins for the right to choose Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis out of Syracuse. He never played a down because he was stricken with leukemia.

The team managed just a 7-6-1 record in 1962, and Brown did not win the rushing title for the only time in his career, gaining 996 yards. Modell fired Paul Brown after that season, a move still resented by some Cleveland fans.

Under new coach Blanton Collier, Cleveland went 10-4 and missed the playoffs in 1963, but Jim Brown ran wild. The Browns acquired Ernie Green to block for him, and he broke his single-season rushing record with 1,863 yards.

With the addition of wide receiver Paul Warfield and the development of quarterback Frank Ryan, Brown finally had the offensive support he needed in 1964. Cleveland went 10-3-1 as Brown ran over foes who no longer could focus all of their #F attention on him.

However, it was the passing game that beat Baltimore in the 1964 NFL championship game. Brown broke free on a couple of runs that enabled receiver Gary Collins to get open for three touchdown passes from Ryan in the 27-0 win.

The Browns were back with the same attack in 1965, and Brown was as good as ever. He gained 1,544 yards and scored 17 touchdowns as Cleveland went 11-3.

"I didn't play much in those first couple of years," said Leroy Kelly, a Morgan State alumnus who backed up Brown and Green and later starred for Cleveland. "I started one game with Jim, and that's one game I'll never forget."

In front of 80,000 fans on a cold, rainy night in Cleveland, Kelly and Brown brought the Browns back against the Pittsburgh Steelers before Ryan found Collins for the winning touchdown in the final minutes.

It was one of Brown's final games. He retired after the Browns lost the 1965 NFL championship game, 23-12, to the Green Bay '' Packers.

He quit in his prime, at the age of 29, after nine glorious seasons, to pursue an acting career.

Many of his records have been broken, yet Brown is still considered by many to be the greatest running back in NFL history.

"He could completely dominate a game," Warfield said. "He was perhaps the most devastating runner who ever played the game. The only guy who resembles him is Emmitt Smith, and he doesn't even come close."

Brown's statistics

Jim Brown led the NFL in rushing in eight of his nine seasons and played in the Pro Bowl every season.

Year ... ... Att. ... ... Yds. ... ... Avg. ... ... TD

1957 ... ... 202 .. .. .. 942 .. .. .. 4.7 .. .. .. 9

1958 ... ... 257 .. .. .. 1,527 ... .. 5.9 .. .. .. 17

1959 ... ... 290 .. .. .. 1,329 ... .. 4.6 .. .. .. 14

1960 ... ... 215 .. .. .. 1,257 ... .. 5.8 .. .. .. 9

1961 ... ... 305 .. .. .. 1,408 ... .. 4.6 .. .. .. 8

1962 ... ... 230 .. .. .. 996 .. .. .. 4.3 .. .. .. 13

1963 ... ... 291 .. .. .. 1,863 ... .. 6.4 .. .. .. 12

1964 ... ... 280 .. .. .. 1,446 ... .. 5.2 .. .. .. 7

1965 ... ... 289 .. .. .. 1,544 ... .. 5.3 .. .. .. 17

Tot. ... ... 2,359 ... .. 12,312 .. .. 5.2 .. .. .. 106

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