'The most aggressive lineman that ever played' football, Bob Brown: 1941-2023
A member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2004, Brown died Friday (June 16, 2023). He was 81.
“Bob Brown demonstrated different personalities on and off the field,” Hall of Fame President Jim Porter said in a statement Saturday. “On the field, he was as fierce an opponent as any defensive linemen or linebacker ever faced. He used every tactic and technique – and sometimes brute force – to crush the will of the person across the line from him. And took great pride in doing so.
“Yet off the field, he demonstrated a quiet, soft-spoken and caring nature that his son, Robert Jr., captured eloquently when he presented his dad for enshrinement in 2004. The Hall extends its thoughts and prayers to CeCe and Robert Jr. for their loss.”
Brown impressed opponents and his coaches with his combination of strength, speed and quickness,
“Bob Brown played offense with a defensive guy’s personality,” Hall of Fame coach JOHN MADDEN said of the five-time All-Pro who played his final three years with Madden in Oakland. “He believed that he could hit you with his forearm and take a quarter out of you. In other words, if he really hit you, you wouldn’t play hard until the next quarter.”
Brown was unapologetic about his approach to physical line play.
“I didn’t try to finesse guys,” he told NFL Films. “I just tried to beat up on them for 60 minutes.”
His techniques, forged by God-given strength and accentuated by an ahead-of-its-time weight training regimen, overwhelmed most opponents. He aimed for any soft spot he could find, perfecting the technique of driving his thumb into a defensive lineman’s midsection.
“I was trying to hit that area that was just below where the shoulder pads stopped,” he said. “There’s a lot of meaty, nice parts in that area. You can get a little bit of the spleen.”
Brown, who said a teammate at the University of Nebraska gave him the nickname “Boomer” for his playing style, said he kept a few theories in mind while playing, most notably: “Be the hammer, never the nail. Attack, and attack relentlessly.”
He believed “if it was born from a woman, I could hurt it and I could block it” and said he didn’t need applause or accolades from outsiders.
“I needed for you as a defensive end to put me in your hall of fame,” he said in a profile compiled by Power of Sports. “I needed for you to walk off the field and look back over at me and think, ‘Boy, I don’t want to see him again.’ That’s what I needed. That drove me.”
A long line of players and coaches considered Brown among the toughest opponents they faced. Some of the documented comments:
“Bob was the most intimidating player I’ve ever seen. I had opponents come up to me during games and say, ‘Gene, tell Bob to stop hitting me.’” – Hall of Fame guard and Oakland Raiders teammate GENE UPSHAW
“Bob Brown was probably my most feared competitor. He would strike out at you. His intent was to do bodily harm. He wanted to inflict pain.” – Hall of Fame defensive end CARL ELLER
“Bob hit me, and it felt like the world turned upside down. I’ve never been hit like that before.” – linebacker Tommy Nobis
“When Bob Brown pulls out to lead a sweep, there are two things a guy like me can do: Get out of the way or get hurt.” – Hall of Fame defensive back HERB ADDERLEY
“Bob was an explosive drive blocker. When he fired out, he knocked them back 5 yards. You don’t see that in pro football.” – Hall of Fame coach DICK VERMEIL
And Madden’s summation: “Bob was the most aggressive lineman that ever played.”
From Cleveland to Nebraska to the prosBrown was born on Dec. 8, 1941, in Cleveland. He attended Cleveland East Tech, a predominantly Black high school starkly in contrast to the racial makeup of his college choice, the University of Nebraska.
In Lincoln, Brown was an All-American guard whom College Football Hall of Famer Bob Devaney labeled “the best two-way player I ever coached.”
He was a member of the star-studded 1964 NFL Draft class, chosen second overall by the Philadelphia Eagles. He started immediately and achieved All-Pro and Pro Bowl status by Year 2 – one season too late in his mind; Brown told an interviewer he was “disappointed not to make the Pro Bowl as a rookie.”
He also was a first round pick in the AFL (fourth overall by Denver) but opted for the NFL because he considered it the “best football in the world. I didn’t want to look back and ask myself, ‘Did I go to the AFL because I didn’t think I could dance in the big dance?’ ”
Brown played his first five pro seasons in Philadelphia, making All-Pro three times (1965-66, 1968). He asked for a trade as the Eagles prepared for the 1969 season, however, citing “personal reasons.” He landed in Los Angeles as a member of the Rams under Hall of Fame coach GEORGE ALLEN.
Two years in Los Angeles – each ending with All-Pro and Pro Bowl recognition – further honed Brown’s skills as he lined up daily against Hall of Famer DEACON JONES.
“I had the opportunity to work every day against the best defensive end in football,” Brown told an interviewer. “We had some battles in practice. That’s when the one-on-one was part of the daily routine. It was always a challenge, and it was always a good street fight.”
In 1969, the Rams allowed only 17 sacks in 416 pass attempts. The team posted an 11-3 record and reached the playoffs but couldn’t hold a 20-14 fourth-quarter lead and lost to the eventual NFL champion Minnesota Vikings.
A last hurrah in OaklandBrown was traded again, this time to the Oakland Raiders, and again his impact was immediate – and legendary.
“We got Bob, and the first day no one knows Bob Brown. They don’t know him personally. They just know his reputation,” Madden recalled for NFL Films. “He walks out of the locker room, and he walks all the way up to the other end where the goal posts are, and he hits the goal post with his forearm. Phoom! Crack! And the whole goal post goes right down. … He turned around and walked off the field.”
In his first year in Oakland, 1971, Brown was selected to play in his sixth Pro Bowl despite missing four games due to injury. He rebounded to play all 14 games in 1972, but by 1973 recurring knee problems proved too serious to overcome and forced his retirement.
In all, Brown played 126 regular-season games. He was selected as a member of the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1960s.
Presenting his father for enshrinement, Robert Brown Jr. said: “In the attrition that is line play in the NFL, he was determined to be the last man standing. He went at his opponents like his life depended on it.”
In an interview with the Associated Press upon his election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004, Brown said his goal was to wear down his opponent physically and mentally.
“If I hurt you enough, I can make you quit,” he said.
“Every week to me was a Super Bowl,” added Brown, whose teams didn’t reach the big game. “I had to play my own personal Super Bowls. I was not going to take a whipping; I just wasn’t.”
Bob Brown’s legacy as one of the best offensive linemen in the history of the National Football League will be preserved forever at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
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