Though most of the observations in Jason Whitlock’s latest AOL column are about as revelatory as saying the Raiders stink (ie. Eric Mangini’s done a good job this season, Joe Gibbs oughta hang it up, the Bears should play Brian Griese, etc.) he’s got an interesting take on how Jim Brown stacks up against LaDainian Tomlinson.
When I was a kid, I read a book about Jim Brown. In the book Brown stated that one of the things that bothered him about playing for the Browns is that he knew the team (and the league) had a quota system for the number of black players.
Brown said that when he played for the Browns (1957-65), he knew the team would keep six, eight or 10 black players “ an even number so every black player had a roommate for road trips. This week I found a couple of Cleveland team photos from Jim Brown™s playing days. Sure enough, the Browns kept eight (of 36) and 12 (of 40) black players on their roster.
Jim Brown™s point was that the NFL at that time wasn™t about employing the most talented players.
In my mind, this segregated/quota system gave Brown, one of history™s most supremely gifted athletes, a huge advantage over modern-era running backs.
When LaDanian Tomlinson lines up on Sundays, he looks across the line of scrimmage and sees Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher, Jason Taylor, Champ Bailey, Dwight Freeney and an assortment of other equally freakish athletes trying to stop the LT express.
I mentioned Urlacher specifically to convey that I™m not stating that black athletes have a lock on freakish athleticism. What I™m trying to convey is that it™s impossible to deny that today™s NFL caters to America™s most gifted athletes regardless of color. That was not the case when Jim Brown played.
When I look at footage of Brown™s exploits, I™m always impressed with Brown™s speed and brute strength. But Brown didn™t set up his blocks as well as Tomlinson does. Brown™s moves weren™t near as nifty as Barry Sanders™ cuts and turns. Brown was no more relentless than Payton and no more powerful than Campbell.
Brown looked like a man among overmatched boys. He looked like a guy who was playing against guys who had never seen anything like Jim Brown. And for the most part, Brown™s competitors hadn™t seen anything like Brown. Brown™s competitors played in segregated high schools and on all-white or token-blacks college teams.
You stick Brown in today™s NFL, and he wouldn™t be near as intimidating. Oh, he™d still be a great player, a Hall of Famer. But he wouldn™t be regarded as head and shoulders above Payton, Campbell, Sanders and Tomlinson. Brown would be on their level or maybe even a cut below.