By Bob Meadows
You know what really grinds my gears? Anything from Cleveland. I’m looking at you, Burgess Meredith, Cleveland Cavaliers, Halle Berry, pollution. All of you!
So I’m throwing down the gauntlet, Cleveland. And here it is: Jim Brown is overrated. Yeah, I said it. Oh sure, Jim Brown is regarded as the greatest running back in NFL history. In fact, he’s often touted as the greatest football player in league history. The numbers tell the story. Brown, a 6-2, 230-lb battering ram, played nine seasons for the Cleveland Browns and led the league in rushing in eight of those years. He’s the only back to average more than 100 yards per game for his career. He also averaged 5.2 yards per carry and, when he retired, was the all-time leading rusher and had set the standard for most touchdowns, with 126.
Blah blah blah. OVER, yells one side of the stadium. RATED, yells the other. Really. He’s not even the best Jim Brown. James Brown had way more soul. And James Brown is way better at talking football.
But I digress. Jim Brown is overrated. Heresy? No way. The numbers tell the story.
Jim Brown played for the Browns (who were named after their coach, Paul Brown, fyi) from 1957 to 1965.
In 1955, Cleveland’s leading rusher was the completely amazing Fred Morrison. He finished 3rd in the NFL in rushing, and averaged 5.3 yards per carry.
In 1956, Cleveland’s leading rusher was the fabled Preston Carpenter. He finished 6th in rushing.
Then came Jim Brown. He won the NFL rushing title in his first season. In one season, he averaged 6.4 yards per carry. In 4 others, he averaged more than 5 yards per carry. In his worst season, he averaged a still solid 4.3 yards every time he ran the ball.
You know who else was awesome? Bobby Mitchell.
Bobby Mitchell. As a rookie in 1958, Mitchell rushed for 500 yards. Peanuts, right? Well yes, except he did it in 80 carries, an average of 6.3 yards per carry.
Next season, Mitchell ran for 743 yards, averaging 5.7 yards per carry. The next two seasons, in 1960 and 1961, Mitchell ran for a total of 1,054 yards, averaging 5 yards per carry.
Who did Mitchell play for? The Cleveland Browns. He was the halfback to Brown’s fullback. Mitchell tore up the league at a rate even better than Brown, and might’ve kept doing so except in 1962, Mitchell was traded to the Washington Redskins. (The Browns had drafted the ill-fated Ernie Davis—the Heisman Trophy winning running back. Now, is that a pick you make when you already have the “great” Jim Brown?) Mitchell switched to flanker, and while still explosive, didn’t rush the ball much anymore.
A couple years later, in 1965, Brown retired with all the accolades you’d expect.
Also, as you’d expect, the Browns’ running production fell way off the next season.
Except, oh wait…no it didn’t. In 1966, Leroy Kelly took over the featured running back spot that Brown held. That year, Kelly averaged 5.5 yards per carry, finished second in the NFL in rushing and first in rushing TDs; the Browns, as they had in previous years, led the NFL in rushing.
In 1967 and 1968, Kelly topped the NFL in rushing and rushing TDs, and averaged 5.1 yards per carry.
So apparently, all you had to do to lead the NFL in rushing and average 5 yards a carry was play for Cleveland. The Browns didn’t need Brown. They just needed a warm body to run behind an offensive line that featured at least one Pro Bowler—and as many as three—every year from well before Jim Brown arrived until well after he retired. Brown benefited from a great scheme and a great offensive line, just like the other Cleveland running backs of his era.
Jim Brown: Overrated.
© 2011 The Peoples News