Roger Brown 6'5" 300 Defensive Tackle 1960 - 1969 Ten Seasons 138 Games Played 3 Safeties 6 Pro Bowls
Roger Lee Brown was drafted in the fourth round of the 1960 NFL draft by the Detroit Lions, the 42nd player chosen overall. The Lions had obtained that draft pick in 1958 when they dealt Hall of Fame quarterback Bobby Layne to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
He attended college at the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore, then known as Maryland State College. The school was so full of talent in an enrollment class of less than 300 students, that other teams in the CIAA (now known as the MEAC Conference) refused to play them in football and tried to get the school kicked out of the conference due to their dominance on the gridiron.
He played with such future pro players like Sherman Plunkett, Johnny Sample, Ray Hayes, and Bob Taylor while there.The team was coached by Vernon "Skip" McCain, who is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
The school stopped fielding a football team in 1979, despite placing 25 men in professional football. Five made the Pro Bowl and one, Art Shell, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In Super Bowl III, there were four alumni members from the school on the field.
Brown is the only player in school history who is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, and he is also a member of the schools Hall of Fame and the Hampton Roads African American Sports Hall of Fame, the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame, the Maryland Sports Hall of Fame, and the Rockland County Sports Hall of Fame in New York
When he arrived in Detroit, he earned a starting job immediately on a defensive unit that featured Hall of Famers Dick "Night Train " Lane, Joe Schmidt, Yale Lary, and Dick Lebeau, as well as Pro Bowl players like Alex Karras, Bill Glass, Darris McCord, and Wayne Walker.
The unit of Brown, Karras, McCord, and Glass was so good, that sportswriter Bruno Kerns of the Pontiac Press dubbed them "The Fearsome Foursome". It was the first defensive line ever to be given a nickname, and the Los Angeles Rams would later adopt that moniker for their defensive line. They were backed by a secondary dubbed "The Four L's", which consisted of Lane, Lary, LeBeau, and Gary Lowe.
This defense was ranked in the top five in the NFL up until the 1965 season, even after the departures of Lane, Schmidt, Glass, and Lary. One of the biggest reasons this happened was the big Brown collapsing the middle of the pocket on every snap. But he was much more than a run stopping extraordinaire.
He intercepted a pass in both 1961 and 1963, gaining 30 yards overall. He was also a tremendous pass rusher who frequently posted double digit sack seasons. In the first of his six consecutive Pro Bowl seasons in 1962, he sacked Hall of Fame quarterbacks Bart Starr and Johnny Unitas for safeties. His two safeties in one season is still tied as a NFL record.
The game where he sacked Starr for a safety was ranked the second greatest game in Lions history by Detroit media. It happened on Thanksgiving Day, where he had six sacks by himself that game, as the team had 11 total in the 26-14 Lions win
The Lions used to play the Packers every year on Thanksgiving, but Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi refused to play again on that day. The NFL then began scheduling other teams to oppose the Lions for future Thanksgiving Day games. Perhaps the vision of Brown tossing around Fuzzy Thurston all game had Lombardi beg out of further repeats?
He was named the Outstanding Defensive Lineman in the league that 1962 season, where he had 19 sacks that was documented by a Lions coach who recorded sacks and tackles that year as a means as an incentive for the players. He was also named to the first of his two consecutive First Team All-Pro honors.
In 1965, Brown recorded the third safety of his career by sacking Starr once again in the end zone to secure a 12-7 victory late in the fourth quarter. He finished the year with 16.5 sacks. His three career safeties is tied with 17 other players as the second most ever in NFL history. His tackling the same player twice for a safety is a record.
In Brown's playing days, the NFL had two divisions called the West and East. It broke up into four divisions in 1967. "I always thought the Western Division was the toughest in football at the time," Brown remembers "We had the Colts, Packers, Bears, Vikings, Lions, Rams, and 49ers then. All really tough teams."
During this time, the Lions put together very good teams. The problem was that the Green Bay Packers was in their division and were a little better. Only the division winners would play the conference championship. The teams in second place in each division participated in the "Bert Bell Benefit Bowl" from 1960 -1969. Proceeds of the game the Bert Bell Retirement Plan, and it was used to determine who finished in third place. The Lions won the first three games also known as the "Playoff Bowl"
In 1967 he was traded to the Los Angeles Rams just before that start of the season for a first, second and third round draft pick. Those picks turned out to be Hall of Fame tight end Charlie Sanders, Earl McCulloch, the 1968 NFL Rookie of the Year, and Jim Yarbrough.
The Rams had just lost starter Rosey Grier to a career ending torn Achilles heel injury, and needed a replacement. Hall of Fame head coach George Allen then orchestrated the trade to get Brown to join the fabled "Fearsome Foursome" defensive line in Los Angeles.
The trade couldn't have worked better for the Rams. Brown was one of ten Rams to make the Pro Bowl that year, as they finished the season 11-1-2 to win the Coastal Division. The defense was ranked first in the NFL in points allowed for the first time in franchise history. They gave up just 14 points per game, were first in interceptions and average yards allowed per rushing attempt. Their Takeaway/Giveaway Differential of plus 16 also led the league.
Brown was teamed up with Merlin Olsen, Deacon Jones, and Lamar Lundy along the defensive line. All were Pro Bowl players in their careers with Olsen and Jones also later being inducted into Canton. The back seven was filled with perennial Pro Bowl players like Maxie Baughn, Jack Pardee, Myron Pottios, Irv Cross, and Eddie Meador.
Though the Rams had the top rated offense that year, their job seemed simple. According to Pro Bowl running back Les Josephson, "Our job was to stay on the field long enough to make sure our defense got rest so we could win."
On a stellar defense that Brown himself says "Was maybe the best team I played on in my career", the Rams dominated their opponents all year before losing in the playoffs to the Green Bay Packers. He was named to his sixth and final Pro Bowl that year.
Around this time, he was having major success as a restaurateur. He had opened a business in Chicago a few years before that was doing very well. He had gotten into cooking while in high school, and had a knack for it. These abilities helped him keep his weight up in becoming the first man who weighed over 300 lbs in NFL history.
After a good 1968 season that saw the Rams finish 10-3-1 and out of the playoffs, his 1969 season was hampered by a broken hand. First year pro Coy Bacon stepped in and performed with excellence. Seeing this, Brown decided to retire to concentrate on his restaurants.
"Coy was a tremendous player", recalls Brown, "I was making more money in my restaurants than I was as a player. I knew I could play another three or four years at a high level, but I decided to walk away while still in good health and concentrate on my off the field ventures. Writers then said I left because of injury, but that wasn't true. I never told Merlin or Deacon why I left then, but the truth is that it was a sound business move at the time".
His last game was in the "Playoff Bowl", which the Rams had also won in 1967. The Rams won 31-0 over the Dallas Cowboys. No other player played in, nor won, more "Playoff Bowls" than Brown did and he is the only player to play in the first and last game of this event.
Because of the era he played in, sacks and tackles were not recorded statistics. His teammates all figure that Brown easily averaged double digits in sacks most of his career. Though he was the biggest man in the NFL at the time, he was extremely nimble and lightening fast off the snap of the ball.
To understand his abilities, listen to the words of Ed Flanagan. Flanagan was a four time Pro Bowl center with the Detroit Lions and San Diego Chargers who played both with and against Brown. He is now a coach for the Fairbanks Grizzlies in the Indoor Football League, and is a member of the Lions 75 Year Anniversary Team.
"He was a bear", recalls Flanagan, " He made a lot of offenses, especially offensive linemen happy, when he retired. He was really smart, tough, and worked hard. He could read what you were going to do before you did it. He had everything. He had size, quickness, and speed, and he ran a 4.8 40-yard dash. He was the consummate All-Pro. I easily put him on the level of Hall of Famers Bob Lilly and Merlin Olsen. Roger should be in Canton himself."
"I remember joining the Lions as a rookie in 1965. He ran over me and through me all day in practice", he continued. "I called my dad and told him I didn't think I was going to make the team because Roger Brown was destroying me in practice every day. His head slap could knock a head off because he was so strong."
He also recalls the bond the Lions shared off the field. "Roger had a restaurant in Chicago that made excellent chicken. Quite a few of us would eat there frequently. I knew he could play several more years at Pro Bowl level when he retired, but can understand if the outside business ventures were more successful because we did not get paid much then. I was working in a brewery for Vic Wertz, who is remembered for being the All-Star first baseman who hit that baseball that Willie Mays made the famous over the shoulder catch on in the 1954 World Series."
At 6'5" 300 he was the model of what the NFL envisioned their future defensive linemen to be. Huge, strong, athletic, hard working, and smart. Of the defensive linemen already enshrined into Canton, he went to more Pro Bowls than Henry Jordan, Art Donovan, Dan Hampton, Fred Dean, Len Ford, Arnie Weinmeister, Willie Davis, and Bill Willis.
For such a big man with a target on his back bigger than most, he was remarkably durable. He did not miss a game in his career, and even played in all games in his last season even though he was injured.
His three recorded safeties was a team record at the time, that was equaled by Bruce Maher in 1967 and passed by Doug English in 1983 by one. Brown is a member of the starting unit on the Lions 75 Year Anniversary Team.
When you look at the current defensive tackles inducted into Canton, it is hard to say any are unworthy. It has been a neglected position by voters historically, with just 12 men enshrined as purely defensive tackles. It is time to right some wrongs by inducting Brown. Recent inductee John Randle got in due to his ability to get the quarterback, but he wasn't nearly the run stopping force Brown was, yet Brown as equally a gifted pass rusher. The fact the league did not record sacks in his era cannot back this claim, but it is said he had easily over 100 sacks in his career.
Some skeptics might point to the fact that neither the Lions nor Rams won a championship in his era, but that demonstrates a lack of real football knowledge. Many men reside in Canton today based purely on their teams success over their on individual abilities. Championships are won by a whole roster, not one individual. Canton is supposed to house the best individual players. If the Pro Football Hall of Fame were to stay on their inaugural mission and just do that, then Roger Brown would already be a member.
Notable 1960 Draftees * Denotes Hall of Fame Inductee
1. Billy Cannon, RB, Los Angeles Rams 3. Johnny Robinson, DB, Detroit 8. Jim Houston, LB, Cleveland 10. Ron Mix, OT, Baltimore Colts * 13. Harold Olson, OT, St. Louis Cardinals 17. Bob Jeter, DB, Green Bay 20. Maxie Baughan, LB, Philadelphia 23. Don Floyd, DE, Baltimore 24. Marvin Terrell, G, Baltimore 32. Don Meredith, QB, Chicago 35. Rod Breedlove, LB, San Francisco 37. Willie West, DB, Green Bay 40. Ted Dean, FB, Philadelphia 41. Johnny Brewer, TE, Cleveland 42. Roger Brown, DT, Detroit 44. Jim Marshall, DT, Cleveland 48. Vince Promuto, G, Washington 55. Abner Haynes, RB, Pittsburgh 56. Don Norton, WR, Philadelphia 59. Len Rohde, OT, San Francisco 63. Gail Cogdill, WR, Detroit 69. Bob Khayat, G, Cleveland 72. George Blair, DB,New York Giants 74. Larry Wilson, S, St. Louis * 75. Jim Norton, S, Detroit 86. Carroll Dale, WR, Los Angeles 88. Bill Mathis, FB, San Francisco 105. Chris Buford, WR, Cleveland 106. Don Perkins, FB, Baltimore 109. Charley Johnson, QB, St. Louis 110. Curtis McClinton, RB, Los Angeles 111. Grady Alderman, OT, Detroit 118. Mel Branch, DE, Detroit 119. Bobby Boyd, DB, Baltimore 157. Bob DeMarco, C, St. Louis 161. Jon Gilliam, C, Green Bay 162. Brady Keys, DB, Pittsburgh 178. Larry Grantham, LB, Baltimore 181. Jim Hunt, DT, St. Louis 203. Goose Gonsoulin, FS, San Francisco 229. Tom Day, DE, St. Louis