Running backs need talented offensive linemen to achieve success in the form of rushing yards and rushing touchdowns.
As great as future Pro Football Hall of Famers Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly were as running backs for the Cleveland Browns, their play was definitely helped by the performance of various offensive linemen for the Browns.
One such offensive lineman for Cleveland was John Brown.
As part of a 10-year NFL career, Brown played at right tackle for the Browns from 1962 to 1966, helping Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly rank high (and even lead) in various NFL annual rushing statistics and Cleveland win the 1964 NFL championship.
We take a look at the life of John Brown – before, during, and after his NFL playing career.
The Early Years Before College
John Calvin Brown Jr. was born in Camden, New Jersey on June 9, 1939.
Camden is located in southwestern New Jersey, across the Delaware River from Philadelphia.
Brown attended Camden High School.
At Camden High School, Brown played on both the offensive line and the defensive line.
While Brown played only one year of high school football, his play impressed Syracuse University (“Syracuse”).
After Syracuse offered him a scholarship, Brown decided to attend Syracuse in Syracuse, New York for college.
The College Years
Brown lettered in football at Syracuse for three years in 1959, 1960, and 1961.
In 1959, Brown was a starting offensive lineman for a Syracuse team that is considered one of the greatest teams, if not the greatest team, in Syracuse football history.
Brown helped Syracuse score at least 35 points in seven regular season games in 1959 – a 35-21 triumph over Kansas on September 26, 1959, a 42-6 defeat of Holy Cross on October 17, 1959, a 44-0 shutout of West Virginia on October 24, 1959, a 35-0 shutout of Pitt on October 31, 1959, a 71-0 shutout of Colgate on November 14, 1959, a 46-0 shutout of Boston University on November 21, 1959, and a 36-8 win over UCLA (then ranked 17th in the nation by the Associated Press) on December 5, 1959.
After compiling a 10-0 record in the 1959 regular season, Syracuse met Texas (then ranked fourth in the nation by the Associated Press) in the Cotton Bowl.
Brown helped future College Football Hall of Fame Syracuse running back Ernie Davis score two touchdowns and two two-point-conversions, as Syracuse defeated Texas 23-14.
With an 11-0 record, Syracuse was considered consensus national champion in 1959.
In 1960, Brown generally was a back-up offensive lineman for Syracuse.
He was part of an offensive team that scored at least 35 points in three games in 1960 – a 35-7 victory over Boston University on September 24, 1960, a 45-0 shutout of West Virginia on October 22, 1960, and a 46-6 win over Colgate on November 12, 1960.
Syracuse posted a 7-2 record and was ranked 19th in the nation in the final Associated Press poll in 1960.
Brown again generally was a back-up offensive lineman for Syracuse in 1961.
He was part of a Syracuse offense in 1961 that scored 51 points in a game (a 51-8 victory over Colgate on November 11, 1961) and helped Ernie Davis win the 1961 Heisman Trophy.
Syracuse had an 8-3 record, including a 15-14 win over Miami (Florida) in the Liberty Bowl on December 16, 1961, in 1961.
Brown played in the 1962 Hula Bowl and the 1962 Coaches All-America Game.
After graduating from Syracuse in 1962, Brown headed to professional football.
The Pro Football Years
Brown was drafted by both the Cleveland Browns in the fourth round of the 1961 NFL draft (as the 55th overall pick) and the San Diego Chargers in the 22nd round of the 1961 American Football League draft (as the 176th overall pick).
He decided to sign with Cleveland; it is perhaps appropriate that “Brown” played for the “Browns” (the team of Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Paul “Brown” and Jim “Brown”).
With the Browns, Brown looked forward to having the opportunity to block for Jim Brown (who also had attended Syracuse) and Ernie Davis.
Davis, who had been the first pick in the 1962 NFL draft (held on December 4, 1961) by the Washington Redskins, had been acquired by the Browns in a trade with Washington on December 14, 1961.
Tragically, Davis never played for Cleveland, as he was diagnosed with leukemia and died in 1963.
In 1962, as a rookie, Brown (playing at a height of six feet and two inches and a weight of 248 pounds) played in all 14, but did not start any, regular season games.
Brown was a back-up tackle to future All-Pro and Pro Bowl left tackle Dick Schafrath and future Pro Football Hall of Fame right tackle Mike McCormack.
Brown was part of a Cleveland offense that ranked in the 1962 NFL regular season second in fewest sacks allowed (27), third in rushing touchdowns (18), and fifth in average yards per rushing attempt (4.3).
In addition, Jim Brown, in the 1962 NFL regular season, ranked fourth in rushing yards (996) and third in rushing touchdowns (13).
Cleveland had a 7-6-1 record in 1962.
In 1963, after Mike McCormack retired, Brown started all 14 regular season games at right tackle.
It turned out to be the season that Brown had his most extensive playing time as a starter with the Browns.
On September 15, 1963, Brown helped Cleveland gain 543 total yards, in a 37-14 Browns victory over the Washington Redskins.
Jim Brown rushed for 162 yards and had 100 receiving yards in the game.
The following week, on September 22, 1963, with Brown at right tackle, Cleveland gained 453 total yards and did not allow a sack, as the Browns defeated the Dallas Cowboys 41-24.
In the game, Jim Brown rushed for 232 yards.
In the next game, on September 29, 1963, Brown contributed to Cleveland again not allowing a sack, in a 20-6 Browns triumph over the Los Angeles Rams.
The following week, on October 5, 1963, in a 35-23 Cleveland win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, Brown helped the Browns gain 357 total yards.
Jim Brown rushed for 175 yards in the game.
In the next game, on October 13, 1963, with Brown at right tackle, Jim Brown rushed for 123 yards, and Cleveland defeated the New York Giants 35-24.
The following week, on October 20, 1963, Brown contributed to Cleveland gaining 500 total yards, in a 37-7 Browns victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.
Jim Brown, in the game, rushed for 144 yards.
On November 3, 1963, Brown helped Jim Brown rush for 223 yards, in another Cleveland win over the Eagles, this time by a 23-17 score.
With Brown at right tackle, on December 1, 1963, Cleveland gained 403 total yards, in s 24-10 Browns triumph over the St. Louis Cardinals.
Jim Brown rushed for 179 yards in the game.
In a 27-20 Cleveland defeat of the Washington Redskins on December 15, 1963, Brown contributed to the Browns gaining 368 total yards.
In the game, Jim Brown rushed for 125 yards.
Brown helped the Cleveland offense rank in the 1963 NFL regular season third in points scored (343), fifth in total yards (4,856), third in passing touchdowns (27), third in fewest sacks allowed (25), first in rushing yards (2,639), tied for fourth in rushing touchdowns (15), and first in average yards per rushing attempt (5.7).
In addition, in the 1963 NFL regular season, Jim Brown (who was named NFL Most Valuable Player by both United Press International and the Newspaper Enterprise Association) led the NFL in all of rushing yards (1,863), rushing touchdowns (12), and average yards per rushing attempt (6.4).
The Browns posted a 10-4 record in 1963.
In 1964, Brown played in 11, and started eight, regular season games.
He shared the starting right tackle position with Monte Clark (who started six regular season games) in 1964.
Brown contributed to the Cleveland offense ranking in the 1964 NFL regular season second in points scored (415), third in total yards (4,486), first in passing touchdowns (28), second in fewest sacks allowed (28), third in rushing yards (2,163), tied for fifth in rushing touchdowns (14), and first in average yards per rushing attempt (5.0).
In addition, Jim Brown, in the 1964 NFL regular season, led the NFL in both rushing yards (1,446) and average yards per rushing attempt (5.2) and ranked tied for third in rushing touchdowns (7).
Cleveland, with a 10-3-1 record, won the NFL East Division title in 1964, for its first division championship in seven years.
The Browns advanced to the 1964 NFL championship game against the Baltimore Colts on December 27, 1964.
Before the championship game, Sports Illustrated described Brown as “quick and strong”.
Brown played in, but did not start, the championship game.
Jim Brown rushed for 114 yards, as Cleveland shutout Baltimore 27-0, giving the Browns their first NFL championship in nine years.
In 1965, Brown played in all 14, and started three, regular season games (again sharing the right tackle position with Monte Clark).
For the 1965 NFL regular season, Brown contributed to the Cleveland offense ranking fifth in points scored (363), tied for fourth in passing touchdowns (23), tied for fifth in fewest sacks allowed (31), first in rushing yards (2,331), tied for third in rushing touchdowns (19), and first in average yards per rushing attempt (4.9).
In addition, in the 1965 NFL regular season, Jim Brown (who was named NFL Most Valuable Player by all of the Associated Press, United Press International, and the Newspaper Enterprise Association) led the NFL in both rushing yards (1,544) and rushing touchdowns (17) and ranked second in average yards per rushing attempt (5.3).
With an 11-3 record, Cleveland again won the NFL East Division title in 1965.
In the 1965 NFL championship game, the Browns played the Green Bay Packers on January 2, 1966.
Brown played in, but did not start, the game, as Green Bay defeated Cleveland 23-12.
Brown played in all 14, and started eight, regular season games in 1966 (again sharing the right tackle position with Monte Clark).
Brown contributed to the Browns offense ranking in the 1966 NFL regular season second in points scored (403), second in total yards (5,071), fifth in passing yards (2,905), first in passing touchdowns (33), tied for second in fewest sacks allowed (29), first in rushing yards (2,166), tied for third in rushing touchdowns (18), and first in average yards per rushing attempt (5.2).
In addition, Leroy Kelly (who replaced Jim Brown as Cleveland’s leading running back in 1966 after Brown retired), in the 1966 NFL regular season, led the NFL in both rushing touchdowns (15) and average yards per rushing attempt (5.5) and ranked second in rushing yards (1,141).
The Browns had a 9-5 record in 1966.
1966 was Brown’s last NFL regular season in Cleveland.
On August 3, 1967, the Browns traded Brown to the Pittsburgh Steelers in exchange for two draft picks – a third-round pick in the 1968 NFL draft (which Cleveland used to draft guard Harry Olszewski) and a 10th-round pick in the 1968 NFL draft (which Cleveland used to draft defensive end James Greer).
In 1967, Brown played in and started 13 regular season games for Pittsburgh at left tackle.
The Steelers had a 4-9-1 record in 1967, including two losses to the Cleveland Browns – 21-10 on October 7, 1967 and 34-14 on November 5, 1967.
Brown played in all 14, and started 13, regular season games for Pittsburgh at left tackle in 1968.
For the 1968 NFL regular season, Brown contributed to the Steelers offense ranking tied for fourth in average yards per rushing attempt (4.3).
In 1968, the Steelers had a 2-11-1 record, including a 31-24 loss to the Cleveland Browns on October 5, 1968 and a 45-24 loss to the Browns on November 17, 1968.
Brown started all 14 regular season games for Pittsburgh at left tackle in 1969.
Pittsburgh had a 1-13 record in 1969.
Among the losses for the Steelers in 1969 were a 42-31 defeat by the Cleveland Browns on October 18, 1969 and a 24-3 defeat by Cleveland on November 16, 1969.
In 1970, Brown started all 14 regular season games for Pittsburgh at right tackle (moving positions from left tackle).
The Steelers posted a 5-9 record in 1970, including a 15-7 loss to the Cleveland Browns on October 3, 1970 and a 28-9 victory over the Browns (Brown helped Pittsburgh gain 425 total yards in the game) on November 29, 1970.
Brown played in all 14, and started 13, regular season games for the Steelers at right tackle in 1971.
In 1971, Pittsburgh had a 6-8 record.
The Steelers lost to the Cleveland Browns 27-17 on October 10, 1971, before defeating Cleveland 26-9 (with Brown at right tackle, Pittsburgh gained 393 total yards and did not allow a sack in the game) on November 7, 1971.
1971 was Brown’s last season in the NFL.
The Years After The NFL
After his retirement from the NFL, Brown was a banking executive.
Brown became chair of the Art Rooney Scholarship Fund (named for the founding owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers) in 1990.
He was involved in various community service and fundraising activities.
In the 2008 movie, “The Express”, about the life of Ernie Davis, a character named “Jack Buckley” (played by actor Omar Benson Miller) is believed to be based on Brown.
Brown named his son, Ernie, after Ernie Davis.
In 2009, Brown was inducted as a Camden County Sports Legend.
Brown does not receive the recognition of other Browns offensive linemen who also helped Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly achieve success as running backs.
Such is probably the case because of a combination of Brown being a member of the Browns for only five seasons, Brown playing five seasons for Cleveland’s rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers, Brown never receiving Pro Bowl honors, and Brown not starting in the 1964 NFL championship game that gave the Browns their last NFL championship; the starting offensive line for Cleveland in the 1964 NFL championship game consisted of left tackle Dick Schafrath, left guard John Wooten, center John Morrow, future Pro Football Hall of Fame guard Gene Hickerson, and right tackle Monte Clark.
However, Brown was an important player for the Browns.
First, while Brown did not start the 1964 NFL championship game, he did start eight regular season games for Cleveland in 1964.
The Cleveland #Browns have actually drafted 11 players named Brown over the years, although only RB Jim Brown and T John Brown had much impact on the team. Ron Brown became an excellent kick returner for the #Rams. Kenny Houston was a great pick for the Houston #Oilers. https://t.co/7APO2pcoBs pic.twitter.com/MwV78xBGk1
— Chris Malumphy (@DraftHistory) April 16, 2020
Many players had a role in the Browns winning the 1964 NFL championship, and Brown certainly was one of the contributors in 1964.
Second, in 1963, the only season when Brown started all 14 regular season games for Cleveland, Jim Brown probably had his best NFL season, rushing for 1,863 yards and an average of 6.4 yards per rushing attempt.
Third, in 1966, the only season when Brown played with Leroy Kelly while Kelly was the leading running back for Cleveland, Kelly had his highest average yards per rushing attempt of his career – 5.5.
Fourth, Brown was a winner.
“Had good balance, good speed, a great team player. Lacked size to take the pounding of being a regular, but made up for it with a winning heart.”
Over Brown’s five seasons with Cleveland from 1962 to 1966, the Browns never had a losing record in any season and compiled an aggregate regular season and playoff record of 48-22-2.
With his play at tackle, Brown helped Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly, as well as the rest of the Browns offensive players, perform better and win more games.
More than just having a “winning heart”, John Brown was a winning player for Cleveland, including contributing to the 1964 NFL championship for the Browns.