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Gold Jacket Spotlight: The Incomparable Jim Brown

Gold Jacket Spotlight: The Incomparable Jim Brown

02/14/2021
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To put into perspective how otherworldly were the accomplishments of Cleveland Browns fullback Jim Brown, consider the statistics he compiled in 1962.

In the only season Jim did not earn first-team All-Pro honors, he ran for 996 yards on 230 carries (4.3 average) and 13 touchdowns. He also caught 47 passes for 517 yards and five TDs. Numbers that many running backs would consider a “career year” for Jim marked the only season he did not lead the National Football League in rushing and at least four other statistical categories.

In his mercurial nine-year career, Jim shattered numerous NFL records – not to mention the spirit of more than a few linebackers and defensive backs who attempted feeble arm tackles rather than put their bodies between harm’s way and the goal line or first down marker.

From the moment he entered the League as the sixth overall pick in the 1957 NFL Draft to this day, James Nathaniel Brown has owned the spotlight. This week, he steps into the Gold Jacket Spotlight, providing another opportunity for fans to marvel at the man whom many regard as the best to play professional football.

The Sporting News thought so, placing him No. 1 in its compilation of “100 Greatest Football Players.” Jim also was selected to the NFL 100 All-Time Team and the All-Decade Team of the 1960s.

Some of his many highlights: seven 1,000-yard seasons; 1,863 rushing yards in 1963, an NFL record that stood for a decade; AP Rookie of the Year award following a season with 942 rushing yards and nine touchdowns (both league bests); three MVP Awards (1957, 1958 and 1965); and a league-best 17 touchdowns in both 1958 and 1965.

None of those statistics mattered much to him, however. Personal trophies weren’t prizes Jim sought; in fact, he gave away several of the pieces of hardware he won. He defined “legacy” by winning the NFL title, which the Browns did in 1964 after falling short in 1957 (title game vs. Lions) and 1958 (divisional game vs. Giants). In the NFL Championship Game against the Colts, Jim carried 27 times for 114 yards, opening up the passing game for Frank Ryan to connect with Gary Collins for three TDs in the 27-0 win.

“Yardage isn’t the big thing. Having your team win the championship is,” he said. “That’s what I work for, winning the championship, and this requires a certain standard of performance.”

Jim used the word “standard” often to measure himself, and going into the 1964, he planned to retire at season’s end with his standards at their peak. Upon winning the elusive title – the Browns’ first since 1955 and the last championship for any Cleveland pro team in a major sport until LeBron James and the Cavaliers in 2016 – he decided to return in 1965 for the chance to repeat.

His marvelous 1965 season – 1,872 yards from scrimmage and 21 total touchdowns – lifted the Browns to the East Division title, but Vince Lombardi’s Packers dashed the Browns’ hopes for back-to-back crowns by limiting Cleveland to 36 offensive snaps in a 23-12 win at Lambeau Field.

Jim played in the 1966 Pro Bowl (following the 1965 season) and was the game’s MVP. He headed to London that summer to work on the film “The Dirty Dozen.” When the film schedule and training camp schedule collided, a feud with the Browns’ owner that became public ended any chance of luring Jim back to football.

Of the failed attempt to strong-arm him into playing again in 1966, Jim said: “Intimidation doesn’t work with me.”

It never did.

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