To others at the time, Brown was no more than an undersized (5 feet, 11 inches and 195 pounds) running back, an eighth-round draft choice who had impressed Redskins scouts with his toughness as a blocker at Kansas State. After performances that included catching about a dozen passes during an exhibition game, however, Brown seemed an emerging star.
"I knew the next issue was going to be to tone Larry down," Brown recalled years later. "One day in camp, I ran a particular play and just laid the ball down very quickly. Lombardi ran over and shouted: `Mister, you don't fumble in our camp!' I made a real big mistake right then: I talked back to him. In front of the entire team, I told him I hadn't fumbled.
"In a way, that's when my feeling [about being successful with the Redskins] got good. You get to be such a perfectionist that management begins to seek means to show any little fault. That's when you get to realize that now you're starting to control them. Before, they had control over you, in terms of not knowing what to expect, not know- ing whether you're going to make the team or not. I felt that change then. When he jumped on me that time, I said to myself, `Hah, I got you.' "
To underline his point about fumbling, Lombardi "made me carry a football [everywhere but to bed] for an entire week," Brown said. "It was an embarrassing situation . . .What made me feel good was that he'd literally chewed me out in front of the entire team. Still, I didn't speak to him for a week. I was young; I was uptight. I'd just look at him. Stare at him. I knew that quietly it was becoming a concern of his.
"One day he walked up to me and said: `Larry, you're a great athlete. You've got potential and are a hard worker. But don't talk back to me in front of my team. You can call me anything, but do it under your breath.' I felt he was actually saying: `Relax, let's get over this hurdle. You have nothing to worry about.' I think it takes one hell of a man to say something like that." When the Redskins jumped to a 4-1-1 record in their first six games, fans began to consider the possibility of a miracle a division championship. Lombardi was more realistic, mixing pronouns and saying: "We're a team that's playing in spurts . . . They're playing with everything they got and once in a while they put it all together for a long drive . . . But obviously we can be outclassed. We can be overpowered."