Jim Brown sets record with Cleveland Browns and then tops

A few days before Super Bowl X in 1976, some of the NFL’s biggest stars attended a private party at a Miami nightclub. Chuck Foreman, then a terrific running back with the Minnesota Vikings, remembered rubbing shoulders with some of the biggest stars at the time, including Walter Payton and OJ Simpson.

Then he sat down with Jim Brown, the greatest running back of them all, who had left the Cleveland Browns a decade earlier. Foreman, who worked on linebackers and cornerbacks for a living, recalled that he was intimidated. He grew up idolizing Brown not only for his prowess on the field, but also for his willingness to fight for civil rights and walk away from the game at the peak of his powers.

“When I was growing up, it was Jim Brown, Jim Brown and Jim Brown,” said Foreman, now 72. “He was bigger than most linemen and faster than most wide receivers. But he also moved on his own terms, especially in those days, being an outspoken black man.”

Foreman, like many others, called him Mr. Brown. But as they talked, the fear of the young man running behind disappeared. Brown praised Foreman’s style of play and his success with the Vikings. He then gave some advice to the foreman that has stuck ever since.

“‘Know when to go down,'” Foreman said Brown told him. “‘Don’t risk your career by more than two inches.'”

Brown wasn’t just telling her to run smart, Foreman said, he was telling her to think about her future and not sacrifice her body unnecessarily.

Although he didn’t say who, Brown, who died on Thursday at the age of 87, may also have been talking about life outside football. In a sport with a 100 percent injury rate, some NFL players walk because they want to. Most end up with injuries that never heal and are taken out of the game once their usefulness to the coaches is over. People who retire when they want to, often do so because the teams are no longer interested.

Brown was the opposite. He left the NFL after the 1965 season, his ninth in the league and one of his best seasons. He rushed for 1,544 yards and 17 rushing touchdowns, and caught 34 passes, four of which were for scores. He was voted the league’s Most Valuable Player for the first time since his second season in the league.

His rushing records – especially his 12,312 yards on the ground – were eventually broken by Peyton, Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith and others. But Brown’s career only lasted nine years and he played mostly 14-game seasons rather than the typical 16 or 17-game campaigns at a time when chop blocks and other dangerous tackles were allowed. His average of 104.3 rushing yards per game still stands as a league record.

He then left, opting to pursue a career in Hollywood to make movies and more money than in Cleveland. His breaking point came while he was filming “The Dirty Dozen”. Brown told team owner Art Modell that he would be late to training camp. Model said he would fine Brown for each day he missed camp. Angered, Brown called a press conference to announce that he was leaving the NFL.

To that point, Brown had accomplished more in a very long career than many in football, including winning a league title in 1964, winning three MVP awards, and owning the NFL’s career rushing record. But only a handful reached the top. John Elway and Peyton Manning won Super Bowls in their previous seasons, but both were no longer at their peak. Sanders retired with the Detroit Lions when he was only 30, but won only one playoff game.

Brown, on the other hand, was a sort of Mount Rushmore figure, a man of great stature who built an athlete’s personality on and off the field by demanding that owners and coaches treat players — especially black players — with respect. Helped redefine power.

“You could make the case that Wilt Chamberlain was his own man in basketball, but Jim Brown would have been the first pro football player in the modern era to have that kind of presence and influence,” said Michael McCambridge, author of “Americas.” The Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Took Over a Nation. “It was clear that Jim Brown was a player of a different generation with a different mindset.”

The players who came after him were aware of that difference.

“There isn’t anyone who played running back in the NFL who didn’t see Jim Brown as an iconic legend on and off the field,” Tony Dorsett, one of 10 running backs to exceed Brown’s total rushing yards One, wrote on twitter,

“You can’t underestimate #JimBrown’s impact on the @NFL,” Sanders also wrote on twitter,

As extraordinary as Brown was on the field, he was far from perfect. He was arrested more than half a dozen times, including several on charges of violence against women. He was never convicted of any major crime.

But when it came to the sport that made him famous, there were few equals to Brown. Ernie Accorsi, the Browns’ general manager from 1985 to 1992, was in high school when he saw the Browns play in person against the Baltimore Colts in 1959. Brown ran for five touchdowns and 178 yards to defeat the defending champions, and Accorsi felt like watching Babe Ruth at his peak.

Years later, Accorsi worked in the Colts’ front office with Dick Szymanski, who was Baltimore’s middle linebacker in that game in 1959. Szymanski told Accorsi that Web Iwbank, the Colts’ head coach at the time, suggested that Brown was tipping him off. Plays: When Brown lined up with his right hand in the dirt, he was running to the right, and vice versa.

Brown was still running around Szymanski, and in the locker room after the game, Iwbank told Szymanski that he hated to think what Brown’s fast score would have been if he had not tipped Szymanski.

“Coach, I knew exactly where he was going, but I couldn’t catch him or tackle him,” Szymanski replied.

In Brown’s illustrious career, few could do that.