Football Short Story
Just Another Game for Jim Brown
From Jim Brown: The Fierce Life of an American Hero, Mike Freeman (2006)
A scene from the life of Brown. It was October 13, 1963. As he had done so many times before, in so many different ways, Brown was demonstrating that he was a physical being who had mastered a brutal sport.
Cleveland was in Yankee Stadium playing the New York Giants. Tickets to the game were tough to get because the Browns had won their first four games, and because Jim Brown was going to be on the field.
The old NFL was a different entity than the polished, image-conscious sport it has become. Then, the rules were few and the tactics cheap. Football was full of dirty players and optically challenged game officials. Punching, kicking, head slapping, biting - it all happened with disturbing regularity.
L: Brown comes off with QB Frank Ryan; R: Ryan calls signals in '63 Giants game.
Brown experienced it all. As the most dangerous weapon on the Browns team, he drew the attention and the cheap shots from the most vicious enforcers. The Giants were no different. In the moments following Brown's first carry, one of the Giants defenders stuck several of his fingers inside Brown's woefully inadequate face protection. It was the NFL's long-retired two-bar face mask; the bars were several inches apart and rested just beneath his nose, offering the Giants more than enough room to attack his face.
The Giants players mostly went after Brown as he was going down to the ground. When Brown was underneath the massive piles, his arms pinned, practically defenseless, fingers jabbed and gouged and probed under Brown's face mask. As the game continued, it became clear that Brown's eyes - the sharp brown ones that allowed him to view the field with digital clarity - were under a planned, organized assault.
Over the course of the first half alone, Brown's eyes would be poked or hit a half dozen times, at least, by several Giants players, often in the large pileups. In a particularly vicious moment, one of the Giants players shoved his elbow inside the mask and jammed it into Brown's left eye. When Brown arose his vision was severely blurred, as if he were trying to see through a thin, closed curtain.
At halftime, Brown plodded over to a corner of the locker room and sat alone, gathering his thoughts. Brown had scored a 1-yard touchdown in the first half and Cleveland trailed only 17-14, but something was wrong with Brown. He was questioning himself. He was experiencing fear.
Everything changed in the second half. Brown's fear was gone, replaced by icy anger. He took a screen pass from quarterback Frank Ryan, ran over two Giants players, and burst for a 72-yard touchdown. All of those hands and fingers and elbows that had searched for his eyes were now grasping for air. On Cleveland's next possession, there was another Brown score. The Cleveland linemen, using an option blocking system, in which Brown picked his running lanes, freed Brown for a 32-yard touchdown. By now, the Giants had ceased their cheap shots. They were too stunned and broken by Brown to do anything except relent. Cleveland was victorious by 11 points.
Forty-eight hours after the game, Brown's vision was still blurry. Both of the fullback's eyes were swollen and aching. He had told no one in the media what was wrong except a reporter for Sport magazine. "It was my most satisfying game under the circumstances," Brown told the media. He declined to state just what those circumstances were.
Brown had asked one of the assistant coaches about going to a doctor but was told to wait until after practice. If his teammates became aware he was hurt, it could demoralize them. So Brown told only a few close friends on the team and one sports reporter, and swore them to secrecy.
His eyes throbbing through drill after drill, Brown waited until practice concluded, then quietly went to see a physician later that night.