The Owl: Death, Taxes, and 100 Yards

Browns fans intrigued by rookie Jerome Harrison's string of 100-yard games in college may remember another player who reeled off 100-yard games every week. The Owl discusses a a little-remembered rule change that makes Jim Brown's stats even more amazing, almost to the point where you think an asterisk belongs next to any of the yardage records set in the last thirty years...

Last week this column took a trip down Memory Lane for a visit with Frank Ryan, quarterback of the Browns' last championship team in 1964.

So The Owl got to thinking, since things are slow in Berea these days, why not take another trip down Memory Lane and knock on another door?

Every time a Browns running back gains 100 yards in a game now it's a big deal. For Jim Brown, it was almost routine, just as it was for the Browns fifth-round draft choice Jerome Harrison last season.

Of course, we are not drawing any comparisons between Brown and Harrison, but what Harrison did in the Pac-10 in 2005, rushing for 1,900 yards, does make him an interesting prospect.

Brown rushed for 100 yards or more 11 times in his first two seasons, and in 1957 and '58 the season was 12 games long. He played nine seasons, a total of 118 regular season games, and rushed for 100 yards 58 times. He averaged 104.3 yards a game.

No wonder, then, Brown shrugs off his contributions in the 1964 regular season and championship game over the Colts. He rushed for 1,446 yards in the regular season and 114 yards in the title game. It was one of the rare times he did not score a touchdown.

"We had a great team effort that day," Brown recalled recently. "Our defense shut out the great Johnny Unitas. Gary Collins caught all those (three) touchdown passes from Frank Ryan.

"Our offensive line did a great job blocking and we won on special teams. Leroy Kelly had about seven tackles nobody remembers. Walter Beach shut down Raymond Berry. Everybody felt satisfied after that game."

The one player Brown did not mention was Jim Brown. So his teammates did. Brown broke off a 46-yard run to the Colts 18 midway through the third quarter to set up Ryan's first touchdown pass to Collins. Ryan says it was that run that sparked the offense. Collins added two more touchdowns and Lou Groza another field goal after Collins' first touchdown.

"A lot of individuals never got a lot of credit for what they did in that game," Brown said. "Before the start of the '04 season we had a reunion at Severance Hall. It brought the unsung heroes to the forefront. When they started talking about that game and that season you saw the intelligence and dedication they had. Each one of those guys played a part in it. That's what made the game so special."

Not around here, but the debate about who is the greatest running back of all time will never end. People in Chicago have their opinion. People in Detroit and Dallas have different opinions. When Brown retired he was the NFL's all-time leading rusher with 12,312 yards. Now he's eighth. Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, Curtis Martin, Eric Dickerson, Tony Dorsett and Jerome Bettis are ahead of him.

To Walter Beach, who earned his law degree from Yale after playing for the Browns, there should be no debate. Brown was the best ever, Beach says. Case closed.

"If that offensive line we had in that game - John Morrow, John Wooten, Gene Hickerson, Dick Schafrath, Monte Clark - if they could use their hands to block like offensive linemen can today, could you imagine how many yards and touchdowns Jim Brown would have had?

"That rule changed the whole game. I'm not sure the guys playing today could block without using their hands."

The National Football League tweaks its rules every year. One of the most dramatic changes occurred in 1977. Up until that time, offensive linemen had to block with their elbows extended out from their bodies and their forearms in front of their chest. The rule change allowed offensive linemen to extend their arms forward and lock their elbows as they push a defender.

Former Browns left tackle Doug Dieken was drafted in 1971 and retired in 1984. He played before and after the rule change.

"It was a big difference," Dieken said. "It definitely would have made a big difference. Back then guys could have shed blocks. Now there are a lot of ways to go about holding inside (the front of a defender's jersey).

"But Blanton always told his linemen to get in position, because no guy was going to tackle Jim Brown with one arm."

Every one of the players ahead of Brown on the all-time rushing list played after the rule change. None played only nine seasons as he did.

Brown never left the spotlight. He retired after the 1965 season at the top of his game. He rushed for 1,544 yards on 289 carries and rushed for 17 touchdowns his final year. The Associated Press voted him the league's Most Valuable Player

Brown is an actor, an activist and heads Amer-I-Can, a foundation whose goal is to discourage gang activity and point inner-city youth in a more positive direction. Now 70, he is an executive advisor to the current Browns. He spoke to the rookies after the recent minicamp.

More than 40 years after he retired, he is still imposing. He always chooses his words carefully. He did not care that most of the players in the current rookie class knew nothing of his playing days with the Browns.

"I talked to 25 black baseball players and only three of them knew who Jackie Robinson was," he said. "As long as the message is the right one, it will get through to them."

Brown's name is nowhere to be found in the scoring summary of the 1964 game. That means nothing to him.

"If we didn't score any touchdowns, it would have meant something to me," Brown said. "I didn't have any goals as an individual because there was nothing for me to break. I had to try to help them. If I was going after records, it would have been different, but there were no records to go after."

That's because Jim Brown already had them all.


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