Ninth-Best? No. THE Best.

It doesn't matter what the all-time yardage stats say. Jim Brown was the best running back ever, and no inflated numbers will ever take that away.

For LaDainian Tomlinson, it couldn't have happened any better on Sunday.

The San Diego Chargers running back passed the great Jim Brown on the NFL career rushing list, moving into eighth place.

He got to do it against the Browns, Brown's former team, in a 30-23 win.

He got to do it in Cleveland Browns Stadium, located on the footprint of old Cleveland Stadium, where Brown played.

He got to do it with Brown in attendance in his role as executive advisor for his old club.

And after the game, Brown was waiting in the locker room to congratulate him.

The respect Tomlinson showed Brown in that exchange, and the kindness and class exhibited by Pro Football Hall of Famer, was something that both will remember for the rest of their lives.

Tomlinson has had a tremendous career. He's one of the best the game has ever seen and is a sure-fire first ballot Hall of Famer. For our money, he's easily the best runner of his era.

But with all due respect, he's no Jim Brown. The same can be said for all-time rushing leader Emmitt Smith and all the runners between him and Tomlinson.

No, this is not just some old guy waxing poetic about the way it used to be back in the day, and how it – and the people then – were better, and how one of his boyhood idols, Brown, was the best of the best. That's not it at all.

It's just the conclusion you have to come to after looking at all the facts.

If Brown played today, he wouldn't be nearly the runner he was then. The game has evolved and changed. The players are faster, bigger and stronger.

With that having been said, though, that's not how you measure players from different eras. You judge them by how they stacked up against players of their time, and in that regard, Brown was so far superior to his contemporaries that it's almost laughable. He was a man among boys.

When he retired 44 years ago at the still young age of 29, probably at the peak of his career, he had shattered every NFL rushing record. He finished with 12,312 yards, which absolutely dwarfed what anyone else had done to that point.

He rushed for 1,000 yards in every season but one, and in that one, 1962, he missed by just four yards with 996. With whispers then that Brown might be washed up, he proved he wasn't by rolling to a record 1,863 yards in 1963.

That was in a 14-game season. For the first four years of his career, the Browns played just 12 games. Now teams play 16.

It was something in those days to rush for 1,000 yards. You needed to average 83 yards a contest in a 12-game schedule, or just over 71 in a 14-game season. Now it takes only about 62 yards a game.

Even with defenses geared to stop him at all costs, knowing they could thwart the Browns if they did that, Brown still averaged 5.2 yards a carry not just for a season, but for his career. Talk about playing at a high level for a long time.

There was no artificial turf then – no quick surfaces. The fields were all grass, and when the weather got cold late in the year, that grass turned to mud. That took great runners like Brown and turned them into plow horses because of the bad footing.

They used to say that Brown's successor in Cleveland, Hall of Famer Leroy Kelly, was a great "mudder" because he could keep his feet in poor conditions when nobody else could. When's the last time – if ever – you've heard the term "mudder?"

With fewer teams and fewer players per team then, it was obviously much tougher to make it to the pros than it is today, with 32 teams of 53 players each. Thus, the players, in a relative sense, were better collectively than they are now – the NFL was better than it is now.

Brown was faster than the defensive backs who tried unsuccessfully to catch him from behind.

He was stronger and more powerful than the defensive linemen and linebackers who tried unsuccessfully to wrestle him to the ground.

He was virtually indestructible, never missing a game and hardly ever sitting out a play.

Fast, powerful, indestructible. That was No. 32.

"Jim Brown was the closest thing there's ever been to Superman on a football field," said Philadelphia Eagles HOF linebacker Chuck Bednarik, who had the task of playing against Brown and the Browns twice a year, every year, in the Eastern Conference.

You could even make the case -- and you'd be right – that Brown is not just the best running back of all-time, but also the best overall football player. Actually, he's one of the best-ever athletes in any sport, being ranked the third-greatest in one poll.

From the day Brown retired just before the start of the 1966 training camp to make movies, great running backs have followed him into the game. There are great ones now, and more will come as long as football is played.

But none of them, LaDainian Tomlinson included, are Jim Brown. That's not just talk. It's fact. Those numbers – those facts -- don't lie.

Both men had a nice experience on Sunday at the game. It was indeed one great runner passing another.

In no way, shape or form, though, was it the passing of the torch, and that's the most important message of the day.


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