Willie Brown was a player of record-breaking skill, amazing stamina

Willie Brown (DB, Grambling State University, 1959-63) has been named to the Black College Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2012.

He joins 10 others selected from a list of 35 finalists who had been determined earlier by the Black College Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. Induction ceremonies will be held February 18, 2012 at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis during the Priority Payment Systems third annual enshrinement ceremony.

Here’s a look back at Willie Brown, whose stellar career has already earned him induction into the Pro Football, SWAC and Grambling Legends halls of fame …

So deep was Grambling’s roster in 1959-62, the only NFL player to intercept a least one pass in 16 consecutive seasons — and a five-time Super Bowl participant as a corner and secondary coach — never played defensive back.

Still, the stalwart Willie Brown lettered all four years at split end and outside linebacker, and Grambling won a title in 1960 — its first championship in the Southwestern Athletic Conference under the late Eddie Robinson, who would eventually add a record 16 more.

“He was one of the guys with great ability,” Robinson once said of Brown. “It wasn’t real important where he put him. He would have been a great running back. Or a great tight end, because he was an exceptional blocker. And he had character.”

An undrafted rookie out of Grambling in 1963, Brown eventually was signed by Houston — which then traded him away.

Bad move. Brown became a premier shut-down corner (combining speed, mobility, a fierce determination and a sharp football mind) after signing with Denver, and was all-American Football League just a year later. Over one memorable season, the Broncos secondary included a trio of Grambling products: Brown, Goldie Sellers and Nemiah Wilson.

But they didn’t do much winning. So in 1967, Brown signed with Oakland — where he sparked two Super Bowl runs, falling in 1968’s II and then winning a decade later in 1977’s XVI. In all, he pulled down 54 picks (setting a new career mark for the Raiders), and appeared in a total of five AFL All-Star games, four AFC-NFC Pro Bowls and nine AFL/AFC title games.

After retiring at ageless 38 in 1978, Brown became an assistant with the Raiders, and has helped the club to three more Super Bowls — and two more victories (XV in 1980 and XVIII in ’83; Oakland dropped 2002’s XXXVII).

“The satisfaction as a coach was just as strong as they were as a player,” Brown said. “I coached the position that I played, and I love those ball players that I coached.”

Perhaps best remembered for his then-record 75-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Vikings in Super Bowl XI, Brown was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1984, and the Grambling Legends Sports Hall of Fame as part of its inaugural class in 2009. He’s also a member of the All-Time American Football League Team.

“I just played as hard as I could,” Brown said. “Being in the Hall of Fame probably means more to your family than to yourself. I have always been the mellow guy who doesn’t put a lot of value in terms of how good I was.”

Brown’s long coaching career has included overseeing a number of standout defensive backs, notably fellow Grambling product Albert Lewis — whom he mentored at Oakland for the final five years of Lewis’ own lengthy 15-season NFL career.

“This all started at Grambling, with the things that Coach Eddie Robinson instilled in all the players,” Brown told me. “That work ethic carried over to the pros. If you look at the history of guys who came to the pros from Grambling, they had that kind of stamina.”

Starting with Hall of Famer Willie Brown.


The other 2012 inductees into the Black College Football Hall of Fame …

Harry Carson (DE, South Carolina State University, 1972-1975)
Eldridge Dickey (QB, Tennessee State University, 1964-1967)
James “Shack” Harris (QB, Grambling State University, 1965-1968)
Claude Humphrey (DE, Tennessee State University, 1964-1967)
Steve McNair (QB, Alcorn State University, 1991-1994)
Willie “Wonderful Willie” Richardson (WR, Jackson State University, 1959-1962)
Johnny Sample (DB/RB, Maryland Eastern Shore, 1954-1958)
Rayfield “Big Cat” Wright (OL, Fort Valley State, 1963-1966)
Cleve Abbott (Head Coach, Tuskegee, 1923-1954)
Jackie Graves (Former NFL Scout, former director of personnel for the Philadelphia Eagles)

The Black College Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee is comprised of journalists, historians and former football executives from around the country. The committee includes Ernie Accorsi, Charles Bailey, Gil Brandt, Charles Garcia, Donald Hunt, Mike Hurd, Ty Miller, Roscoe Nance, Charlie Neal and Lloyd Vance.

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