Jim Brown faces Green Bay in his final game, the 1965 NFL Championship
What’s the best team in football history? Who’s the greatest all-time hitter ever? The best boxer pound for pound?
You can spark some lively debates with any one of those questions about sports, or thousands of others like them.
But when it comes to the question of who is the best running back in football ever, the answer is easy.
Jim Brown of course.
There are certain, well shall we say, certainties in life.
Water is wet. Fire is hot.
And Jim Brown is the best runner in football history.
Nine Years with Browns
Drafted sixth overall in the 1957 draft, Brown played nine years, all with the Cleveland Browns, and led the NFL in rushing eight times. Playing 12 and later 14-game schedules, he rushed for 1,000 yards every year but two, his rookie year of 1957 when he led the NFL with 942 yards, and 1962, when he lost five yards on his final carry of the season and finished with 996.
The following year, Brown set an NFL record with 1,863 yards rushing in 14 games. He finished his career with 12,312 yards gained rushing yards, which still ranks eighth all-time today.
In his career, he scored 126 touchdowns in just 118 games, averaging 104 yards per game, the only rusher in NFL history to average over 100 yards per game for a career. Brown still holds the career record for yards per carry (5.2).
For comparison’s sake, Emmitt Smith, the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, finished with 18,355 yards — but he played in 226 games in his career, more than 100 more than Brown.
Before Brown, the NFL career rushing leader had been Joe Perry of the San Francisco 49ers, but Brown surpassed Perry’s 8,378 career yards in 1963, on his way to 12,312. Buffalo’s OJ Simpson broke Brown’s season record, rushing for 2,003 yards in 1973, and Walter Payton surpassed the career record during the 1984 season.
Four-Time NFL MVP
Brown was Rookie of the Year in 1957 and MVP in 1957, 1958, 1963 and 1965. Every year he played, Brown was voted into the Pro Bowl. He never missed a game in nine seasons, and earned an NFL title in 1964 when the Browns blanked the Colts, 27-0.
:”For mercurial speed, airy nimbleness and explosive violence in one package of undisputed evil, there is no other like Mr. Brown,” the noted sports columnist Red Smith once wrote.
Or as Sam Huff, former Giants linebacker, once described trying to tackle Jim Brown: “All you do, is grab hold, hang on and wait for help.”
In the summer of 1966, Brown stunned the sports world with the announcement that he was retiring from football to pursue an acting career. He entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971.
In 2002, Brown was named by The Sporting News as the greatest professional football player ever. Brown was every bit as good a lacrosse player, with the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame stating that he was “widely considered to be the greatest lacrosse player ever.” Sportswriter Bert Sugar named Brown #1 in his book The Greatest Athletes of All Time.
The greatest game I ever saw was the Yankees-Red Sox playoff at Fenway Park, October 2, 1978.
And somewhere deep in the copy morgue of the Fitchburg-Leominster Sentinel & Enterprise is my page one story on that incredible game in Boston. The lead went something like this: It was a game within a season, and a season within a game.
In many ways, the game mirrored the season, and the ups and downs each team experienced from April to October. The Red Sox jumped out to a 2-0 lead, the Yankees rallied on Bucky Dent’s home run to go ahead, and a Boston rally fell just short in the ninth as Jim Rice and Carl Yastrzemski made the final two outs.
In a similar vein, the Red Sox jumped out to a 14 1/2 game lead in July before the Yankees rallied to capture the lead following the Boston Massacre, a four-game sweep of the Sox at Fenway in September. But the Red Sox won their final eight games to force a tie, only to lose the playoff. When you think about it, one at bat separated the two clubs over the course of 163 games.
At a graduation party several years ago, I met Mike Torrez, the Red Sox pitcher who surrendered the Dent home run. I smiled and shook his hand and told him I was a Yankee fan, and that I was at Fenway for the 1978 playoff.
Torrez winced, and at first I thought he was going to put out his cigar on my forehead. Instead he paused, then reflected:
“That was a great baseball game, probably the most pressure-filled game I ever played. I had good stuff that day, real good stuff, and I was cruising. until Dent hit that fly ball. Thanks for reminding me.”
In “The Greatest Game” by Richard Bradley conjured up many vivid memories of that unforgettable day. The crisp October weather, the shadows, and that beacon of sunlight that nearly blinded Lou Piniella in right field in the late innings.
The way the wind shifted, knocking down Reggie Jackson’s home run bid in the first inning and aiding Dent’s fly ball over the wall in the seventh.
The unbelievable crowd noise that day, which kept building, hit a few blips in the late innings, and reached a crescendo as the Sox tried to rally in the bottom of the ninth.
And then, as Yaz popped out to Graig Nettles at third, the crowd grew silent instantly, as if someone had pulled the plug on the sound system.
Grown men celebrated that day, on the Fenway turf and throughout New York.
And grown men wept too, in the stands and in the Red Sox clubhouse and all over New England.
It truly was a game within a season, and a season within a game.
A week or so ago, the SportsLifer went back to the future.
This past weekend the future appeared, in the person of Iona Prep junior running back Jeffrey Mack.
Mack scored seven touchdowns as Iona beat St. Anthony’s, 48-35, in the New York CHSFL AAA finals. Mack scored on runs of 50, 17, 11, 48, 71, 19 and 38 yards. And he added a two-point conversion for 44 points. He also caught two passes, giving him 400 all-purpose yards.
I had never seen someone who can make so many people miss the way he did today,” Iona Prep coach Vic Quirolo said. “He was a man with boys out there.”
The championship was Iona’s first since 1967, and ended a string of seven straight league titles for St. Anthony’s. The Gaels finished the season unbeaten at 11-0 and ranked number one in the New York metropolitan area.
Mack, who stands 5’8″ and weighs 155 pounds, came into the game leading the CHSFL in rushing with 1,574 yards and 17 touchdowns.
And then he had the game of his life. Mack’s heroics overshadowed those of Ernie Nevers, Dub Jones and Gale Sayers, who share the NFL record with six touchdowns in a game. Nevers also holds the record of 40 points in a game (six rushing touchdowns and four PATs) set with the Chicago Cardinals in a November 28, 1929, contest against the Chicago Bears.
No More Turkey Bowl: One of the great traditions of Thanksgiving Day, the Iona-New Rochelle game, is now history. For years, the two arch-rivals battled every year on Thanksgiving morning, but the high school playoff system put an end to the game several years back.
Even if they can no longer play on Turkey Day, Iona and New Rochelle owe it to their students, alums and fans to continue the tradition and play each year. Why not make Iona-NRHS the opening game of the football season? No playoff conflicts there.
Maybe, Just Maybe…
New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms was the MVP of Super Bowl XXI.
The Giants, the class of the NFC, have already proven they can get there — and win. They did it last year, they lead the conference this year.
And if the Jets can knock off the unbeaten Titans on Sunday, then they’ll have to be considered one of the top-line favorites in the AFC. No matter what happens, the Jets are in good position to win the AFC East.
Only five times since Super Bowl I in 1967 have New York’s NFL entries, the Giants and Jets. made the playoffs in the same season. That’s five times in 42 seasons.
The only year both New York entries made a serious run in the same season was 1986, The G-Men went 14-2 that year, and trounced the 49ers (49-3), Redskins (17-0) and Broncos (39-20) to win their first Super Bowl.
At one point that season the Jets were 10-1; then they lost five straight games. They beat the Chiefs, 35-15, in the first round of the playoffs, then blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter and lost to the Browns, 23-20, on Mark Moseley’s field goal, pictured right, in a marathon double overtime game, one of the longest in NFL history.
1981: On the final weekend of the season, the Giants beat the Cowboys, 13-10, in overtime on a field goal by Joe Danelo, then cheered for the Jets the next day. And the Jets came through, romping over the Packers, 28-3, to put both New York teams into the playoffs together for the first time. The following Sunday, December 27, the Bills beat the Jets, 31-27, at Shea Stadium before the Giants upset the Eagles, 27-21, in Philadelphia. The 49ers beat the Giants, 38-24, the following week and went on to win their first Super Bowl.
1985: The Giants finished 10-6, then beat the defending champion 49ers, 17-3, at the Meadowlands. Big Blue was shut out, 21-0, by the Bears the next Sunday in Chicago. The Jets were 11-5, but dropped a 26-14 decision to the Patriots in the first round of the playoffs. The Bears beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl that year.
2002: G-Men won their last four, including a 10-7 overtime win over the Eagles, courtesy of a Matt Bryant field goal, in their last game, to wind up 10-6. They then blow a 38-14 lead to the 49ers and lost, 39-38 in the NFC wild card round. The Jets went 9-7 and blanked the Colts, 41-0, before losing to the Raiders, 30-10.
2006: Big Blue goes 8-8 to earn a playoff spot, but loses to the Eagles, 23-20. Jets finish 10-6, but lose to the eventual champion Patriots, 37-16..
What do Henry Schmidt, Sandy Koufax and Mike Mussina have in common?
This unlikely triumvirate comprises the only three pitchers in baseball history to retire following 20-win seasons. Discount Black Sox Lefty Williams and Eddie Cicotte, who were kicked out of baseball in 1920 following 20 wins.
Schmidt pitched for the Brooklyn Superbas (later the Dodgers), and was 22-13 in 1903, his only season in the major leagues. Brooklyn wanted him back for 1904, but Schmidt declined, sending back his unsigned contract with a note that said, “I do not like living in the East and will not report.”
Schmidt pitched for several years in the Pacific Coast League, then returned to his native Texas to make a living selling fabrics and picking up the nickname “Flannel.”
Every baseball fans knows the Koufax story, a bonus baby who came up with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955, and three Cy Young Awards and an MVP later retired with an arthritic left elbow following a 27-9 season in 1966. Koufax’s last pitch came at age 30 in the 1966 World Series, as Los Angeles was swept by the Baltimore Orioles.
At Koufax’s retirement press conference, a reporter simply asked, “Why, Sandy?” He answered:
“I don’t know if cortisone is good for you or not,” said Koufax, shown right. “But to take a shot every other ballgame is more than I wanted to do and to walk around with a constant upset stomach because of the pills and to be high half the time during a ballgame because you’re taking painkillers, I don’t want to have to do that.”
Moose Makes His Mark
And then there’s Mussina. Just two losing seasons in 18 years, a 270-153 lifetime record, a .638 winning percentage, more than 100 wins with both the Yankees and Orioles. And finally a 20-game winner for the first time in 2008 on the last day of his career.
“I think it’d be pretty cool [to retire after 20 wins],” Mussina said back in September. “I don’t know what everyone else thinks, but I think it’d be pretty cool.”
So the Moose rides off into the sunset, a borderline Hall of Famer. Mussina never won a World Series, never won a Cy Young Award, never pitched a no-hitter (although he came within one strike of a perfect game against the Red Sox in 2001.) Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.
Moose finished more than 100 games over .500 in his career, and every pitcher who has ever done that is in the Hall of Fame.
And he went out on a high note, unlike so many others who were forced into retirement. Ironically, that may help his Hall of Fame quest in the long run. Only time will tell.
Just like the Doc and Marty McFly, the SportsLifer went back to the future.
Went back to the future today. Went back to my old high school.
It was raining, pouring. Almost didn’t make it.
But then I said to myself, did a little rain stop Marty McFly or the Doc?
No. There were no rainouts in Back to the Future. And no rainouts today.
So I went back to New Rochelle, to my old high school, to watch unbeaten Iona Prep.
Worth the trip. Got there at halftime to find the Gaels holding on to a slim 14-12 lead.
Iona promptly scored three touchdowns in the third quarter and went on to win, 42-27.
So the Prep is now 10-0, ranked # 1 in the New York metropolitan area, and will play next weekend for the perfect season and the CHSFL AAAA title.
The last time Iona was unbeaten was 1967, my junior year, the first year in the new school on Wilmot Road.
That team, led by quarterback Howie Burke, finished 8-0. We beat both Stepinac and St. Francis in the final seconds and blanked arch-rival New Rochelle, 13-0, in a cold, driving rainstorm on Thanksgiving morning to complete the undefeated season.
Now, 41 years later, Iona goes for another perfect record.
Back to the future.
Two days after Christmas, back when I was a fifth grader, my family moved cross country from suburban New York to Daly City, California, just south of San Francisco.
It was a temporary move. My father was an engineer working in Manhattan, and was assigned to put in a data processing system at a Planter’s Peanut warehouse just off Highway 101, not far from Candlestick Park.
A 10-year-old football fan at that time, I was delighted to discover that we lived next door to a professional football player.
His name was Bob St. Clair, and he had just finished his ninth season as an offensive tackle with the San Francisco 49ers in what would prove to be a Hall of Fame career.
Mr. St. Clair as I called him, then was a huge man, 6’9″ and weighing 265 pounds. He was nicknamed “The Geek” and was famous for eating raw meat. In addition to his blocking duties with the 49ers, St. Clair served as mayor of Daly City and later San Mateo County Supervisor, and owned a liquor store in Noe Valley.
The St. Clairs had a big family, including a son, Gary, who was about my age. The first time I went over to visit, there was a bald-headed man sitting on a sofa in the living room talking with Mr. St. Clair.
Y.A. Tittle Sighting
That bald-headed guy was Y.A. Tittle, who had just finished his first season as the quarterback of the New York Giants. Tittle and St. Clair were good friends — they had been teammates in San Francisco for years.
So here I am, this 10-year-old kid, seeing Y.A. Tittle in real life. I was speechless.
Celebrity appearances were commonplace in the St. Clair household. One time I met Leo Nomellini, a great 49er and a Hall of Famer; another time R.C. Owens, he of the famed “alley-oop” passing combination with Tittle, showed up. I even got to meet some San Francisco Giants, including Orlando Cepeda and Willie McCovey.
I met what seemed like half the 1961 49ers during an event at St. Clair’s liquor store, including Monty Stickles, Monte Clark, Charlie Krueger, and Abe Woodson.
The joy ride was short-lived. My family moved back to White Plains that summer.
49ers at Yankee Stadium
A year and a half later, five days before President Kennedy was assassinated, the 49ers came to New York to play the Giants. My father, mother, cousin and I went to the game at Yankee Stadium, and watched the Giants overwhelm the 49ers, 48-14, behind four Tittle touchdown passes. Woodson returned a kickoff 99 yards for the final San Francisco score.
After the game, we met Mr. St. Clair outside the 49er dressing room. I got a chance to shake Abe Woodson’s hand and say, “Nice return Abe.”
A third-round draft pick out of Tulsa University in 1953, Bob St. Clair played his entire 12-year career with the 49ers, retiring after the 1963 season. He was a 49ers’ team captain, was named first- or second-team All-NFL nine times and was selected to play in five Pro Bowls.
Early in his career, St. Clair was often used in goal-line situations and on special teams. He blocked 10 field goals in 1956, which must be some sort of record.
St. Clair attended the University of San Francisco, and was part of USF’s undefeated 1951 team, which did not get a bowl invitation, in part because there were two black players on the squad. San Francisco dropped football after that season, and St. Clair transferred to the University of Tulsa.
The 1951 USF Dons are the only college football team in history to have three future NFL Hall of Famers on their squad at the same time — defensive end Gino Marchetti, running back Ollie Matson and St. Clair.