Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Brown Power

Before we get into the nuts of Jim Brown, a story. A friend who lives in Green Bay met Dick Schaap in a bar and asked him about Jim Brown as a lacrosse player. Brown played lacrosse at Syracuse and crossed paths (and sticks) with Schaap, who played goalie at Cornell. At the time Brown was Brown-shaped and completely healthy, which meant he had muscles on the outside of his shorts, and Schaap was at his adult height of five-foot-eleven, of which an honest eight inches was hair.

Schaap intercepted some of Brown's shots but wasn't religious about it. As he told my friend, "Brown wasn't much of a lacrosse player, but he didn't have to be. No one wanted to get in his way."

That might be the essence of Jim Brown the athlete right there. People got in his way but no one wanted to. Not even Sam Huff at the height of his manic-insurance-salesman powers said, "Man, I can't wait to get me a piece of that Jim Brown."

But the thing of it was, when Jim Brown was on the field everyone knew he was going to get the football, because the Browns offensively had two options: hand the ball to Brown or punt. The QB of Brown's Browns was either math whiz Frank Ryan or Milt Plum, the magician behind the Lions’ dynamic punting game of the mid-‘60s. Gary Collins, who ran like a fully loaded game-show host, was the split end. At the other end was Johnny Brewer and the mattress attached to his back. Rich Kreitling was in the mix too, to the amusement of D-backs throughout the league.

Given a choice between Jim Brown and that in the NFL of the late '50s, what did Browns GM Brown tell Coach Brown to have RB Brown do? Exactly.

The numbers tell the story. Jim Brown represented 32 percent of the Browns’ offense for his career, just rushing the ball. Add in his catches and that number jumps to 38 percent.

No running back in the postwar era comes close to those numbers for a career. O.J. Simpson was half the Bills’ offense in his 2,000-yard season, but he couldn’t sustain it. Neither could Earl Campbell or Gale Sayers. In Barry Sanders’ best year his rushing yards were 35 percent of the offense -- less if you factor in Scott Mitchell’s givebacks.

Here’s another way of looking at it. Here are the differentials between Brown and the second-place rushers for the eight seasons Brown won a rushing title.

Year      Brown's Yards      Runner-Up Yards     Differential     % Differential
1957      942                       700                          242               25.69%
1958      1,527                    791                          736               48.20%
1959      1,329                    1,036                       293               22.05%
1960      1,257                    1,101                       156               12.41%
1961      1,408                    1,307                       101                 7.17%
1963      1,863                    1,018                       845               45.36%
1964      1,446                    1,169                       277               19.16%
1965      1,544                    867                          677               43.85%

Two times in his career Brown had almost twice as many rushing yards as the league’s second-best rusher. Only once was the gap single digits.

By comparison, in Barry Sanders’ huge 1997 season he won the rushing title by 295 yards over Terrell Davis – roughly a 14-percentage-point cushion. Brown beat that gap six times out of eight.

The one-dimensional Neanderthalism of the Browns’ early ‘60s offense hadn't been seen in the NFL since Ernie Nevers took his Duluth Eskimos on a three-month romp through the playgrounds and garden spots of central Ohio, and Jim Brown took it with him when he left. In the post-Brown era every great RB required a posse, even if it was Willie Gault and Matt Suhey. The DIY ethos was gone forever.

You start with a whole lot of running backs, and what you’re left with in the end is Jim Brown. Jim Brown was his own video game before video games were invented. Jim Brown had Jim Brown and some blockers taking on platoons of HOFers, all with steel plates in their heads, and Jim Brown dominated. He was as black and proud as the truth.

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