NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown is one day away from turning 80 years old.
A celebration — “Jim Brown: 80 Years & Running” — of the former Cleveland Browns fullback is scheduled to air at 7 p.m. (CT) Wednesday on NFL Network.
Brown led the NFL with 12,312 rushing yards and 106 rushing touchdowns when he retired after his ninth season. He established an acting career after football and founded The Amer-I-Can Program, which helps teach life management skills and improve self-esteem in participants.
Brown also has reflected on race relations in America, from his earlier experiences to what he observes today.
Enshrined in Canton, Ohio, in 1971, he said in “Jim Brown: Life and Football” audio on the Pro Football Hall of Fame website:
“At that time, America was not 100 percent pleasant to African Americans, and each day of our lives, we had to deal with being looked upon as a second-class citizen, so the good thing about football is that it was less of that kind of attitude in the game of football than maybe in the game of life.
“But on the other hand, the people that reached out and were very generous did not come from the world of football,” Brown continued. “They came from the world of life, so I applied my life in football, I applied those things that people taught me in life in general, so it was kind of a little different way that I looked at things. The big picture was life. The smaller picture was participating in sports as a football player.”
Brown was born in Georgia in 1936, raised in New York and starred collegiately at Syracuse before he was drafted by Cleveland with the sixth overall pick of the 1957 NFL Draft. Brown was named rookie of the year that season, led the NFL in rushing yards and was named All-Pro in eight of his nine seasons.
The Cleveland Browns knocked off the Baltimore Colts 27-0 for the 1964 NFL Championship, with Brown gaining 114 yards on 27 carries and 37 yards on three receptions.
Vikings personnel consultant Paul Wiggin, a sixth-round pick in 1956, played all 11 of his pro seasons with Cleveland, a franchise that had been integrated since its 1946 inaugural season. He told Vikings.com about how playing together broke down barriers.
“When we won the world championship in Cleveland, we were 18-point underdogs and beat a team 26-nothing with Johnny Unitas. It was one of the most bizarre games in the history of football,” Wiggin said. “The whole world thought we couldn’t win. It was amazing how, in a locker room environment, suddenly color didn’t matter, geography didn’t matter, lifestyles didn’t matter. You, along with the rest of those guys, just won the world championship. You saw Jim Brown from Syracuse hugging Johnny Brewer from Mississippi.”