Larry Brown was supposed to be an afterthought. Instead, he became a legend.
An eighth-round pick by the Redskins in 1969, the running back fumbled so often that new coach Vince Lombardi made him carry the ball everywhere he went. Brown was so often late off the snap that Lombardi ordered a hearing test. Sure enough, the rookie was deaf in his right ear.
When you’re the team’s third running back taken in the same draft, such setbacks mean long-shot odds to make the team, but safety Brig Owens saw a relentless runner coming at him every practice.
“Larry was very quick and determined. You could see him oozing with confidence,” Owens said. “He was the only guy who talked back to Lombardi. Back then, you had two [offensive] plays you’d run the entire practice. Lombardi said, ‘Larry, if you can’t hit the right hole I’m going to run you back to [Brown’s hometown of] Pittsburgh.”
Along with 50 supporters, Brown, 71, chuckled over memories outside RFK Stadium on Tuesday when District Councilman Vincent Gray announced a renewed push to get him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He must be recommended by the Seniors Committee because he wasn’t picked by the Selection Committee during the 25 years after he retired.
Brown has a compelling case. He was a four-time Pro Bowl back over his career (1969-76) and was league MVP in 1972. Brown led the NFL with 1,125 rushing yards in 1970 and 1,689 total yards in 1972. Compared to Hall of Fame running backs of the ’60s and ’70s, Brown had more career rushing yards than Gale Sayers (5,875 to 4,956), more rushing TDs than Frank Gifford (35 to 34) and more yards from scrimmage than John Henry Johnson (8,360 to 8,281).
“I should be there based on my performance and talent. It was comparable to some [inductees],” Brown said. “I thought it would happen. The rumor is I didn’t play long enough. The other thing is I didn’t have any godfathers. Coaches George Allen and Vince Lombardi are dead.”
The one persistent argument against Brown’s selection was a limited career. He was great for two years and very good for three more before injuries limited him in the final three.
But in 2010, the Seniors Committee recommended Floyd Little, who played only one more year than Brown and had similar numbers. Terrell Davis played only seven seasons in Denver, although he was the NFL’s top back for four seasons with 2,008 yards in 1998.
“Larry Brown has done enough, more than enough, to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame,” Gray said. “We’re going to work to get this done.”
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