An Indefensible Position: Jim Brown is Overrated

By Bob Meadows

Good, but not that good

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



5 thoughts on “An Indefensible Position: Jim Brown is Overrated

  1. Interesting. Never knew this in context. Good to see the mud in the photo. We need to ban domes and asto turf.

    Posted by twhitsett1 | September 19, 2011, 6:58 pm
  2. You’re kinda right—but I dare you to say it in his face! Jim would put a hurtin’ on that People’s news @ss!

    The Peoples News responds: One of us ran into Jim Brown at a dinner earlier this year. And while 70 is in his rearview mirror, he still looked like he could break us in half.

    Posted by Lou | September 20, 2011, 3:26 pm
  3. Hey! He went to my High School, and we were taught to worship him. I a member of the first integrated class of that school system. Dis him all you want, he got further than many of us.
    Pun intended.

    Posted by Elizabeth | September 20, 2011, 6:18 pm
  4. The beauty of watching Jim Brown was he would run over people rather than around them. His confrontations with the Giants’ linebacker, Sam Huff, are classic.

    Posted by Leroy | September 21, 2011, 2:28 pm
  5. Jim Brown was a genuinely great runner but a prima donna. Coach Paul Brown said “As a pure runner he stood alone…Still I could never excuse his lack of effort in blocking,,,in some instances so poor that pass rushers went right past him; other times, he failed to help other running backs when he was the lead blocker.” Enter Bobby Mitchell. Five games into his rookie year he was hundreds of yards ahead of Jim Brown’s record setting rookie pace. Brown’s first five games as rookie gave him 279 yards on 80 carries for 3.4 per carry. Mitchell’s first five games gave him 500 yards on 66 carries for 7.6 per carry, over twice Brown’s average. Brown’s high was 89 yards his first game. Mitchell went over 100 yards twice in his first 4 games. His 3rd game he had 147 yards on 11 runs = 13.4 avg.! Brown never equalled that avg. per carry in any of his 100+ yard games his entire career. Coach Brown said Jim was jealous of the press Bobby was getting. The next game Mitchell had his first and only 2 fumbles of that year, both recovered by the Browns. So, under pressure from Prima Donna Brown, the coach did not let Mitchell carry the ball a single time the last half of the season! Mitchell was supposedly benched for fumbling, but Jim Brown had fumbled twice as often his rookie year. So all of Mitchell’s 500 yards came in his first 6 games and 80 carries. Jim Brown’s first 80 carries as a rookie gained 279 yds. to Mitchell’s 500!
    Next season, same dirty tactics by Jim Brown and Coach Brown against Mitchell. Brown held the NFL single game record with 237 yards on 31 runs =7.6 avg. In the season’s 8th game Mitchell had 232 yards in 14 runs for a 16.6 avg. per carry (!)= almost 9 yards per rush more than “superBrown” had in setting the record. Bobby had almost the entire 4th quarter to gain the 6 yards to break Brown’s record. It was the greatest rushing performance in history and should have passed into legend. But in one of the dirtiest acts in NFL history, Coach Brown did not give Mitchell another carry, preventing him from breaking jealous Jimmy’s record. By the way, Jimmy Brown actually had 16 carries , 2 more than Bobby,that same game and gained just 40 yards, 192 less than Mitchell! And Brown averaged 2.5 yds to Mitchell’s 16.6 yards per carry against the same defense. Think of it: each carry Mitchell went over 14 yards further than “Superman”. In his first carry Mitchell ran for a 90 yard td, 10 yards longer than any Brown ever had..
    So I agree Jim Brown, the greatest runner of his era, was overrated. Coach Paul Brown told Jimmy he was the lowest graded blocker of the Brown’s running backs. As a back who didn’t put full effort into blocking for his QB or for the equally talented, faster, and more explosive Mitchell, Brown was able to add hundreds of yards to his season and career totals. Doing so hurt Mitchell’s totals, the QB’s performance, and the team. NFL Film’s recently chose Mitchelll and Brown the 2nd best Running Back Tandem in history. Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung were first. Why? Because they both blocked for each other and pulled for the team. They certainly were not as talented as Mitchell and Brown. Picture what a great blocker Brown could have been. Mitchell actually had a higher avg. per rush and more tds over 50 yards than Gale Sayers. Imagine what he could have done if Brown blocked for him if he had blocked for him like a fullback should! Jim was a hypocrite: imagine his reaction if the equally talented Mitchell didn’t block for him! If Jim Brown had the proper team spirit and attitude to go with his great talent I believe the Browns could have rivalled the greatness of Lombardi’s Packers. And I believe people today would talk about Bobby Mitchell the same way they talk about Gale Sayers and Jim Brown.
    Brown actually worked against Mitchell by manipulating the coach to bench him when he was excelling. Brown took it further. Legendary for his toughness, he tried unsuccessfully to intimidate Mitchell. He outweighed Bobby by about 40 lbs, not exactly a fair match. And Mitchell was assigned as Brown’s roommate. You talk about pressure for a rookie! Brown regularly threatened to beat Mitchell if he disagreed with any of his opinions. The courageous Mitchell never changed his opinions despite Brown’s threats. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to do your best wtih Jim Brown regularly threatening to whip up on you, while he pressured the coach to bench you when you got too much publicity. It is a testament to Bobby Mitchell’s character that he was able to excel under such conditions. He left the Browns after 4 seasons, switched to flanker, and caught more passes than any receiver in the 60’s. When he retired Bobby Mitchell had more all-purpose yards than any player in NFL history except Jim Brown.
    For these reasons I believe Jim Brown was overrated and I disagree with those who chose him the greatest NFL player ever. And I hope more people will become aware of the underappreciated greatness of Bobby Mitchell, whose character matches his talent.

    The Peoples News responds: Wow, Joe. Thanks for this. I never saw Brown play and was just taking a satiric riff based on stats. But you, goodness. Nicely put!

    Posted by Joe Skoczylas | October 1, 2011, 10:16 am

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