Bill Brown was the definition of a hard-nosed fullback back when hard-nosed fullback didn’t mean you were a glorified offensive guard.
Brown was a four-time Pro Bowl fullback on three of Bud Grant’s four Minnesota Vikings' Super Bowl teams, piling up (quite literally) enough rushing yards that 46 years after his retirement he remains fourth all-time in Vikings’ history. Every one of those yards came with a black-and-blue mark attached.
Sometimes it was Brown who carried those purple splotches, but more often than not it was the guys trying to tackle him who left with the bruises.
“He was the kind of runner (that) if you approached him to tackle him you better be ready because he’s not going to avoid you,’’ Grant once said of Brown. “He’s going to run through you. He’s going to run over you or around you. He was already here when I came to Minnesota, and I remember looking at film and thinking, ‘Holy smoke! This guy is a football player.' ’’
Called “Boom” by his teammates for obvious reasons, Brown was a 5-foot-11-inch, 228-pound bowling ball of a runner who’d rather run over a tackler than avoid one. He did both often enough to be named second team All-Pro three times in a career in which he finished in the top ten in rushing four times and in rushing touchdowns five times.
Brown was originally drafted in the second round by the Chicago Bears in 1961. A year later Chicago made a trade they learned to regret when they shipped Brown to divisional rival Minnesota after having handed him the ball only 22 times.
Brown made them regret that decision for the next 13 years.
“That was the greatest trade we ever made,’’ said Hall-of-Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton. “He was a great runner, a great blocker and a great receiver. I could run him down field on any kind of pass route. He loved to play football more than anybody I’ve ever seen.’’
Brown was a violent, reckless runner who savored the hard yards between the tackles and began to pile up enough of them that by 1964 he would make the first of his four Pro Bowl teams, rushing for 866 yards and seven touchdowns.
That was the beginning of five consecutive seasons in which Brown played a key role in a Vikings' offense that began to grind down their NFL opponents until they won the NFL championship in 1969. What they did not win was Super Bowl IV, in part because Brown was inexplicably handed the ball only six times.
By the end of his career, Brown had played in three Super Bowls, rushed for 52 touchdowns and caught 23 more touchdown passes. Those combined 75 touchdowns tied him with O. J. Simpson and put him two touchdowns ahead of the great Hall-of-Fame fullback, Earl Campbell.
Long after his retirement, Brown was named one of the 50 greatest Vikings of all-time. Grant had no quarrel with that.
“Boom was as good as we ever had,’’ he said, and that includes runners like Adrian Peterson and Robert Smith. Whether Bill Brown belongs in Canton or just listed among the Hall Of Very Good is a debatable argument. But if you ask Fran Tarkenton or Bud Grant they’d tell you it’s a debate worth having.
Great article, though I didn't really get to see to many Vikings games as a kid I do remember Brown as a very rough & tough player
Any player before 1975 that had 76 career TDs deserves to be discussed if not celebrated but Bill Brown was unfortunately, not utilized enough in the postseason ... a mistake by Grant ?
Its hard to tell because the team went to three SBs in his tenure but you would think he could contribute more ?
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Dre Bly won a championship ring with the Rams and went to the Pro Bowl with both the Rams and Lions. He has 43 interceptions, 55 defensive takeaways but has never even reached the preliminary list for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.