Sunday, March 21, 2010

Roger Brown

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

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Merlin Olsen : R.I.P. To A Rams Legend

Never before has a man come across our paths like the great Merlin Olsen, who passed away at the age of 69 years old yesterday. He was more than a gridiron great who blessed viewers with his abilities on the field as a Pro Bowl player who became the leader of the greatest defensive line in NFL history, "The Fearsome Foursome".

Merlin wasn't done entertaining America. Even long before he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1982,. He had become a star actor on television in 1977 in the hit series "Little House on the Prairie", then starred in his own series called "Father Murphy".

During this time, he became a color commentator during NFL games with play by play announcer Dick Enberg. The two became fast friends and they would pair together on the NBC Network throughout the 1980's. Enberg would voice over a video tribute to his friend during a celebration of his life at a Utah State University event last year. He then starred in another show called "Aarons Way" in 1988, then transitioned to commercials. He also hosted multiple telethons benefiting children.

To understand the journey is to remember the beginnings. Born as one of nine children in a family in Utah in 1940, athletics was an important part of the Olsen household. Football was a sport that three of the Olsen boys played best. Merlin and his younger brothers Phil and Orrin all would make it to the NFL, playing together in 1976, making it one of the very few times that three brothers participated in a professional sport at the same time. Phil played with Merlin on the same team from 1971 to 1974.

Merlin attended Utah State University in college, as would Phil later on. Orrin attended Brigham Young University and their brother Clark had a son, Hans, who would later play football for BYU as well. Hans is now a renowned broadcast journalist in the Provo, Utah area.

At Utah State, Merlin quickly became a star. He was named All-Conference twice and All-American in his senior season. That year saw the Aggies lead the nation in run defense, giving up a paltry 50.8 yards per game. This allowed the team to finish ranked tenth, the only time in school history they reached a ranking that high. Merlin was named the winner of the Outland trophy after a stellar season.

He then went on to play in the East-West Shrine Game, and was named MVP. He would later be inducted into the games Hall of Fame, as well as the 75th Anniversary All-Sun Bowl Team. His exploits at Utah State are so legendary that they named their football field after him and will soon have a bronze statue of his likeness standing at the entrance of the stadium.

His jersey was retired by the school, as was Phil Olsen's, and he is a member of the Utah’s Sports Hall of Fame, both the Utah State University Sports Hall of Fame and All-Century Football Team, All-Academic All-America Hall of Fame, and is a member of the Newspaper Enterprise Association All-Time All-America Team. He was also number one of the State of Utah’s Top 50 Athletes of the Century by Sports Illustrated. Phil was listed as the 43rd best. Merlin is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

The Los Angeles Rams drafted him in the first round of the 1962 NFL draft, the third player chosen overall, becoming the first player ever from Utah State drafted in the first round in the NFL. The Denver Broncos made him the second player chosen in the first round of their leagues draft, but Olsen chose the Rams because the financial expert that he was thought it a fiscally more sound strategy to choose the Rams. He signed a contact for $50,000 in an era where the average salary was $12,000.

He immediately became a one man wrecking crew in the NFL, standing out as soon as he entered the world of professional football. He was named NFL Rookie of the Y.ear and was selected to the first of his 14 consecutive Pro Bowl appearances. No other Ram has appeared in more Pro Bowls and his five First Team All-Pro honors is tied as the most ever in team history.

No other player in NFL history has ever gone to the Pro Bowl in the first 14 years of their career, and his overall total has been matched only by Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews. He also won the Pro Bowl MVP Award in 1968.

He was lined up on the left side next to Deacon Jones. The two fed off each others excellence, forcing opponents not to be able to double team either. Lamar Lundy played defensive end from the right side, and Rosey Grier completed the quartet team in 1963. The Fearsome Foursome was born and soon was dominating the NFL.

Hall of Fame head coach George Allen was hired by the Rams in 1966, and the groups fortunes began to change upon the arrival of the defensive expert. When Grier had a career ending injury in the 1967 preseason, Allen acquired Hall of Famer Roger Brown to replace him. The unit dominated the NFL again, finishing first in the league in defense.

They continued their excellence throughout the 1960's and even added Coy Bacon to the unit. Bacon started after Brown had a injury issues, and Diron Talbert replaced the retired Lundy. The group continued their excellence, frequently placing multiple players from the unit into the Pro Bowl. Jones, Brown, Bacon, Lundy, and Grier all made the Pro Bowl as members of the Rams.

The one constant was Olsen. Even after the rest of the rest of his excellent unit retired or departed for other teams, he stayed in Los Angeles and kept leading the way. When Hall of Famer Jack Youngblood joined the team in 1971, he was given sage advice buy their leader. " Push to be great not just on every play, but with every heartbeat."

Youngblood says "When you stop and think of Merlin on the field, he accomplished things that will never be accomplished again. If it hadn't been for Merlin Olsen, I wouldn't have turned out to be the football player that he helped mold and make."

He retired after the 1976 season, the only year he failed to make the Pro Bowl. He was a first time inductee into Canton. His list of awards is astounding, and surely will never be duplicated again. When he was named NFL MVP in 1974, he accepted it "on behalf of all who toil in the NFL trenches".

He is a member of both the NFL's 1960's and 1970's All-Decade Teams, is a member of the NFL's 75th Anniversary All-Time Team and was ranked number 25 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Football Players. He has also won the Walter Camp Man of the Year Award, and the NFL Alumni Career Achievement Award.

The Rams retired his jersey number and he was placed in the Saint Louis Ring of Honor even though he played his entire career in Los Angeles. He is also a member of the California Sports Hall of Fame, and was named Athlete of the Century for the state of Utah. The man must have had dozens of trophy cases to attempt to hold all of the accolades he achieved.

His charity work perhaps passes his athletic achievements. He was a true hero to countless people, and was especially dedicated to children. A father of three children and a grandfather of four, Olsen had an acute understanding of family and love for humanity.

He is still beloved and respected by his teammates. I was coincidentally working on a article on the 1967 Rams, and the Rams I was able to talk to all stated how important Merlin was to the team. I had just contacted Hans about talking to Merlin yesterday about the team, but this was unfortunately an event that never took place.

"He was ferocious and fearless on the football field and then the other probably more important aspect of his personality was he was a true gentleman,"Youngblood said. "We all know what a wonderful, tremendous football player he was, but he was so much more than that."

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell released this statement, "He was extraordinary person, friend and football player. He cared deeply about people, especially those that shared the game of football with him. Merlin was a larger-than-life person, literally and figuratively, and leaves an enormously positive legacy."

A legacy that will live on for decades more than just in the NFL record books or TV re-runs. This soft-spoken giant of a man has left us a legacy booming, fertile, and everlasting. Just to thank him would be a vast understatement, but would be gracious accepted by a true hero whose kindness had no boundaries.

See Ya Merlin. Thanks Again For Everything!