Named NFL Most Valuable Player in 1972-73 season… Second leading Redskins’ rusher of all-time with 5,875 yards… Shares the Redskins’ all-time single game record with four touchdowns… Appeared in four consecutive Pro Bowls from 1969-1972.
The Washington Redskins have built a legacy of good running backs. That legacy begins with Larry Brown. Brown was the first Redskins running back to gain more than 1,000 yards in a single season. He achieved that feat twice in a career that ran from 1969 to 1976.
Born in Clairton, Pennsylvania, Brown and his family moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania when he was only two years old. He started playing football in his junior year at Schenley High School in Pittsburgh. He chose football over baseball because he thought he had a better chance to gain a college scholarship in football. Prior to his junior year, Brown played baseball. He said that his father pushed him into playing baseball because it was a game one could play in an organized way at a very young age. His dad loved baseball and was an excellent player in his own right.
Brown played fullback in high school primarily because he had good blocking skills. "I wasn't afraid to hit people," he said. "In fact, I liked it and it was a good way for me to make a statement." He received honorable mention on the All-City football team.
Brown received a scholarship offer to play football at Kent State University. Instead, he followed a coach's advice to attend Dodge City Junior College in Dodge City, Kansas. A former Schenley High School football player had attended that school. He was named honorable mentioned All-American.
Brown was soon invited to try out for the varsity football team at Kansas State University. Brown explained that if he made the team, he would be given a scholarship. "For some reason, I never doubted that I would make the team," said Brown. He continued to be a blocking back at Kansas State and blocked for Cornelius Davis and Mack Herron.
Otto Graham selected Brown in the eighth round of the NFL draft in 1969. After the draft, Vince Lombardi was hired to replace Graham. The initial relationship between Brown and Lombardi was purely business. "My mission was to survive the competition among the running backs and his (Lombardi's), I believe, was to select the best five or six players for the two positions that met his definition of an all purpose back," said Brown. "What made the task much more difficult for me was my size and my inability to catch passes, at least during practices." Brown admitted that his relationship with Lombardi during this time was "strained." "My combatant behavior sometimes clashed with his disciplinary agenda. Once I overcame the hurdles, the relationship changed for the better and I became his personal development project," explained Brown.
While reviewing practice and game films in slow motion, Lombardi noticed that Brown was seconds late getting off the snap count. He asked Brown about it. "I told him that I was having trouble recognizing the various defenses which I needed to know to fulfill my responsibilities on each play," said Brown. Lombardi didn't buy it. A couple days later Brown was sitting at his locker when two men in long white coats approached him. "I thought, what did I do to deserve this," quipped Brown. "I thought I was heading for the insane asylum for sure." In fact, the men in white coats were doctors who were asked by Lombardi to give Brown a hearing test. It was discovered that he was completely deaf in his right ear. Lombardi got permission from the League office to install a hearing aide in Brown's helmet. "One day when I was in the locker room, Lombardi brought me the helmet and he told me to put it on and go to the other side of the room. When I did, he said, `Larry, can you hear me?' I said, `Coach, I have never had a problem hearing you.'"
Unofficially, Brown earned the starting running back position in training camp. However, in the opening day game, Brown found himself on the bench. Lombardi started two veteran backs, but shortly after he put in Brown and Charley Harraway. That first season Brown earned about $25,000. He said that the initial contract included little or no incentives.
Before the start of the `70 season Vince Lombardi died of cancer. His death was a total shock to all the players. "We didn't see it coming," said Brown. "It happened just when we were starting to see the fruits of our labors. I certainly didn't see it coming although I did notice he was taking a lot of antacids on a daily basis. I concluded later that Lombardi was very well aware of his condition and pretty much kept it to himself and his family."
Bill Austin, an assistant coach under Lombardi, was named interim coach for the `70 season. Brown thought that Austin had great football credentials, but he was not Vince Lombardi. "Naturally, the team felt let down because Lombardi had laid the foundation for success and it was difficult to see it happen without him. We were still in a rebuilding mode and a lot of the work was left undone. We knew that the offense was in good shape personnel wise. But on defense there were plenty of holes to be filled. From a management point of view, Austin was the right person at the time because it was too close to training camp to conduct a thorough search for another head coach. We realized that this was the situation and we had to live with it."
The season was a wash. The Redskins finished 6-8.
George Allen was hired head coach and general manager of the team before the start of the `71 season. "I was told many years later that Allen met with a former assistant coach of the Redskins to `pick his brain' after he had accepted the job," recalled Brown. "This assistant coach told him, `Whatever you do, leave the offense alone because they can put points on the scoreboard.' And that's essentially what he did. Most of his time was devoted to special teams and the defense and he actually convinced those guys that they could score more points than the offense. He created a `favorite child' environment for the defense which irritated the offensive players a little bit and really stirred up our competitive juices.
"Overall the reception to Allen was decent," continued Brown. "We knew defensively we were having enormous problems preventing our opponents from scoring and based on his reputation he was the right person for the job. He was not the `In your face' kind of person Lombardi was, but the end results were the same."
The remedy was immediate and swift. The Redskins started the `71 season with five wins in a row. The team made the playoffs for the first time in 26 years with a record of 9-4-1.
In 1972 they were 11-3 and went all the way to Super Bowl VII against the Miami Dolphins in the Los Angeles Coliseum. The `Skins lost that game 14-7.
"I believe we could have beaten anyone the week after we won the NFC championship game," said Brown. "Instead, we had to wait two weeks to face the Dolphins. I thought that was a disadvantage for any team participating in the Super Bowl for the first time. I remember the team went to California early and stayed in an area where Allen thought there would be the least amount of distractions. The rules we had to follow would be the same as if we were at home for the first week of the season. Upon our arrival, the rules changed and created a climate for the first and major distraction. This was the first indication that anxiety had struck a vital part of the organization early. Allen was a stickler for details to the point that I thought he was managing our idle time as well. I don't remember whether Sonny (Jurgensen) was able to play or not, but I do know that there was something else going on between the two. If Sonny had started the game, it was obvious that the Dolphins couldn't focus on stopping me. However, Billy (Kilmer) was a fierce competitor and played an important role in getting us to the biggest game of our lives. By game time I recall being mentally exhausted and not full of energy. I also remember not getting an enormous amount of traction during the game because the grass came up very easily and everywhere I went there were Dolphins, which made for a very long day."
Other than the Super Bowl and some playoff games, the one game that sticks in Brown's memory was against the New York Giants in New York on October 29, 1972. "I ran for about 190 yards, my best game ever. Also, I remember punching one of their defensive linemen for his unnecessary activity after the whistle had been blown and tore a large piece of skin off the back of my hand. It wasn't a good punch because I hit part of the guy's helmet. The team physician treated this very bad injury and I didn't miss a play."
Brown was not afraid to play hurt. And he got hurt often because of his running style. He literally threw caution to the wind when he ran the ball and would throw his body in order to gain that extra yard. "I was a fierce competitor, a perfectionist and had a history of playing with pain that goes back to high school," he recalled. "The goal was always more important to me than the obstacles and distractions, including pain. I remember my first charley horse at Schenley High School. The pain was unbearable so before a game I rubbed the area with some red hot analgesic balm to take my mind off the pain and put it on the heat. The pain eventually disappeared and I didn't miss a play. Lombardi also had a lot to do with me playing with pain and playing hard. He was very demanding and wanted more than a hundred percent effort and every ounce of energy from you on every play. If you gave him what he wanted I wouldn't hear the `How bad you looked' speech and that helped me develop consistency."
In an eight year career Brown was MVP in 1972 and selected to play in the Pro Bowl in 1969, 1970, 1971, and 1972. His jersey number 43 has been unofficially retired and he is one of the 70 Greatest Redskins of All Time. The most he earned as a professional football player was $125,000 a year which was part of a contract that included incentive clauses. Brown carried the ball 1,530 times in his career gaining 5,875 yards. His best seasons were in 1972 when he gained 1,216 yards and in 1970 when he gained 1,125 yards. He rushed for 100 yards or more 21 times and rushed for 100 yards or more in six games in 1970 and six games in 1972. He also scored four rushing touchdowns in one game against the Eagles on December 16,1973. It should be noted that the season consisted of 14 games during Brown's career.
After he retired in 1976 he worked for E.F. Hutton as a personal financial management advisor. He also worked for 12 years with Xerox and was responsible for business and community relations. He is currently vice president of the Michael companies, Inc., a commercial real estate firm based in Lanham, MD. He serves as a real estate agent and leases and sells commercial properties.
He and his wife Janet, a Washington native, live in Potomac, MD. He has two adult daughters -- Tonya, who lives in Atlanta, GA and Laurin his youngest daughter, lives in Houston, Texas.