Guest column: Why "reverence" is the operative emotion when describing Jim Brown
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Each weekend this offseason a guest columnist weighs in with thoughts on the NFL -- past, present or future. Today we feature Hall-of-Fame selector Ira Kaufman from Tampa).
There's an NFL pecking order, even among the immortals.
Every man inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame is represented
by a bronze bust and a memorable legacy, but only one member generates
awe on the steps of Canton. Only one is treated with the respect
afforded to heads of state.
His name is Jim Brown, and he is tougher than the rest.
During my summer visits to Canton as Tampa Bay's Hall-of-Fame
representative, I've made it a point to attend the Friday photo session where
the returning inductees pose for a group picture.
That's when I first noticed the aura surrounding Jim Brown, even among
The best players in the league's 100-year history fawn over
Brown, now 84. They treat him differently, perhaps because he played
the game so differently. "The most dominant player to ever step on any athletic field,'' is how
Ray Lewis describes Brown, who led the NFL in rushing eight times
during a nine-year career.
When I attended Eddie DeBartolo's celebratory party at Canton's posh
Glenmoor Country Club in August of 2016, my observations were reinforced as
Brown's limo pulled up to the front. There were dozens of Hall of
Famers and a handful of celebrities gathered on the patio. Drinks were
flowing, and the music was loud -- until a legend among legends
As Brown approached with the help of a cane, the chatter stopped, the
music seemed to fade
and everyone's attention turned to a larger than life figure who was
soon enveloped by the crowd.
The evening's entertainment was provided by Huey Lewis and the News
and Boyz II Men, but make no mistake -- Jim Brown was the star. Paul
Anka looked on, mingling with Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, but the
spotlight never strayed from Jim Brown.
The younger generation can look up Brown's statistics, noting his
average of 104.3 rushing yards-per-game still remains tops. They can
discover he won three league MVP awards and was an All-Pro eight times
before retiring in 1966 at the age of 30.
But to realize the full impact of Jim Brown, you have to be around his
fellow Hall of Famers. There had never been a back like him when he
joined the Browns in 1957. In terms of size, speed, power, durability
and physicality, he still stands apart.
"Paul Brown called him the best football player he ever saw,'' says
Hall-of-Fame executive Bill Polian. "I share that opinion.''
Yet it was more than Brown's accomplishments on the football field
that make him so unique. Dave Zirin, who wrote the book, "Jim Brown:
Last Man Standing,'' may have put it best.
"From the moment he stepped onto a playing field,'' Zirin wrote, "the operative
emotion expressed in describing Jim Brown has been reverence.''
Who else would walk away from the game unhurt, at the peak of his
career and earning $60,000, to fill up the big screen? Instead of
running over Sam Huff, Brown soon found himself killing Nazis in "The
Dirty Dozen'' and making out with Raquel Welch in "100 Rifles.''
Not bad work if you can get it.
Brown also became a high-profile social activist, supporting causes
intended to help the black community. He held meetings with Los
Angeles-based youth gangs and promoted minority businesses.
In ESPN's 1999 series, "Sports Century,'' Brown was listed at No. 4 on
the list of all-time prominent athletes, behind Michael Jordan, Babe
Ruth and Muhammad Ali. That's a tough trio to crack, but let's not
forget Brown was also a world-class lacrosse player at Syracuse.
The first time I had an opportunity to be in Brown's regal presence, I
extended my arm and said I wanted to shake the hand of the greatest
player in NFL history. Brown seemed genuinely touched. He smiled,
asked me my name and simply said, "You have good taste.''
So did George Orwell.
In his 1945 allegory "Animal Farm,'' Orwell wrote that "all
animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.''
Seventy-five years later, the same holds true for Hall of Famers.
Follow on Twitter @IKaufman76