Colts Alumni Q&A: Ray Brown, Part One

Ray Brown was the only rookie starter on the 1958 Colts championship team. ColtPower's Ed Thompson talked with Ray about his progression into pro football, being drafted and what it was like to be a rookie in Baltimore.

Q: Tell us a bit about your family and your background...

Ray Brown: I was born in a north Mississippi town in the delta, Clarksdale. After moving a couple of times, we wound up in Greenville, MS, which is on the river about 150 miles south of Memphis, for my first grade year. After two or three years my dad opened a restaurant, a service station restaurant at first…but very soon the service station was no longer a part of it. The restaurant grew and over the years it became the place where the athletic teams were fed when they came to town. Various sports teams, including the local team came in for pre-game meals. So my dad was a big sports guy, following sports and we would go around following the teams. Either that led to my interest in sports or maybe I already had it, but just doing a lot of outdoor sports activities I found out at some point along the way that I'm not bad at doing these sports. So I went out in high school and lettered in all four sports (football, baseball, basketball and track) all four years. You couldn't very well do that these days with coaches demanding so much of an athlete's time.

...I was very successful at Ole Miss, again…I was at the right place at the right time since Weeb Ewbank and Charlie Winner [both Colts' coaches] were looking for a defensive back to fill a hole and I had a really good game in the Sugar Bowl against Texas with three interceptions, so they [the Colts] got onto me and followed me into the Senior Bowl. Back at that time there was an early draft, a bonus single selection, and I believe four rounds. I went to the Senior Bowl and had a good day, defensively primarily, so Ewbank and Winner decided to choose me as the first player selected after that pause in the draft. When they selected me they called me and I flew up to Philadelphia where the draft was still going on. It was kind of like they do it today, they introduced the players.

...My wife Lynn I met on a blind date at the University of Mississippi. She was valedictorian of the largest high school in the state and was being recruited academically and they got her a date with a football player in the spring of 1957; she was a senior at that time. When she came on campus the following year I made sure I was going to date her. I later decided I wanted to go to law school and marry that girl and had the funds to do both since I signed with Baltimore. So I married her, she came to Baltimore with me and we have since then had three children, two girls and a boy…Allison, Ray and Beverly. They brought us grandkids and we've been married 48 years and are just as happy as can be.

Q: Could you elaborate on the draft process, because I noticed you are listed as the 5th round pick...

RB: That is correct. They used to have four rounds in early December. They resumed the draft sometime in January after bowl games and the senior bowl and I was the first player taken upon the resumption of the draft. So yes, I was the fifth round draft pick, but the first after the pause or intermission of the draft. They did it that way for several years. There was a lot of media attention. The Colts hadn't won it the year before, but the players felt they were primed and ready to make a move.

Q: Do you remember the terms of your first contract?

RB: If I'm not mistaken it was $10,500 with a bonus between $1,000-$1,500. I'm not positive, but I think it was around that number.

Q: Was it a one year contract, did you have to sign a contract each of your three years?

RB: Yes, it was a one year contract.

Q: Was that common, were multi-year deals unusual?

RB: Very unusual. I don't recall being aware that there were multi-year contracts out there. You had to make the team each year.

Q: What was it like going to Baltimore, finding a place to live and getting settled in as a rookie?

RB: I was not that aware, and maybe it was overconfidence, that you came to camp for that first year and you may be going home any day. After a couple weeks I had my wife come up and we got an apartment in Baltimore. I remember having to explain to her after we got that apartment and stocked it with groceries and things that I could get that pink slip any day now. The only thing I will have, other than what little bit is in the bank, will be the cost of transportation home. We talked about the uncertainty of things at that point, but it worked out pretty well. I believe they figured I would be the defensive back they needed after an exhibition game against the Giants in which I had an interception or two.

Q: Back then things were different and players weren't training around the clock throughout the year. Often times players would have to find other jobs to make ends meet during the off-season with these salaries. What did you do during the off-season?

RB: I had applied for and been accepted to Law School at the University of Mississippi. Then using, I guess, the fraternal brotherhood of law professors, I had the professors at the University of Mississippi gain for me acceptance into the University of Maryland Law School on a rotating basis. That is to say, if I took a certain number of courses at the University of Maryland Law School, which is in downtown Baltimore, then both faculties would regard me as making satisfactory progress toward a degree which the ABA says you must do to be recognized. During the course of my three seasons in Baltimore I would go down to Maryland's Law School downtown in the mornings, take courses, would go down to the stadium and practice, then at night my wife would help me write my briefs. When the season was over I would finish up my semester at Maryland and go down to Ole Miss and take a spring set of courses and maybe throw in a short summer course or two. I did that for three years and after finishing my third year with Baltimore and deciding not to come back I finished my law degree pretty quickly.

Q: Did the rookies go through a fair amount of hazing back then?

RB: Oh yeah. I can't recall a lot of it and it wasn't severe. We might have to sing or lead in line at the chow line. They picked on us around the dormitory some. I recall being told by two or three guys that there was a television store on one of those main north/south avenues in Baltimore and they gave free television sets to new members of the Colts. So my wife and I, at the first opportunity, went down there and I recall after some minutes, the look and the reception that we got upon my telling them that we had come down as new Colts and wanted to pick up a television set. They conferred for a while, and you know what…they gave me one. But it was not something they did or advertised, some of the Colts had just played a practical joke on me.

Check back this weekend for the second installment of our Q&A with Ray Brown in which he'll talk about the Colts defense, being Johnny Unitas' roommate, playing in Memorial Stadium and much more. If you missed our initial feature article on Ray, "At the Right Place at the Right Time," click the link to enjoy that story as well. Article photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts Public Relations Department. Used with permission.

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