Shortly before we went on the air with former Washington Redskins’ running back Larry Brown on this week’s Talk of Fame Network broadcast, we started talking about a four-year period of his career when he was one of the best players … not running backs, but players … anywhere. A four-time Pro Bowler, two-time All-Pro, league MVP and NFL Offensive Player of the Year, Brown was the back nobody could catch.
“Well,” he said, “you know why I ran that way?”
“I was scared,” he said.
Once the broadcast began, we returned to that conversation and asked Brown if he could elaborate. If, as he said, he ran away from defenders because he was “scared,” what … or who … scared him?
“At first,” he said, “I was afraid of (former Washington coach) Vince Lombardi. He was a driving force because he was the coach my rookie year (1969). And he told me one time, ‘If you make the decision not to stay with the hole for the block … or stay with the block … then you better not come up short in terms of yardage.’
“And I remembered that. And I said, ‘OK, if this doesn’t look good on this particular play … if this path doesn’t look good … I have to make a decision very quickly to take another path. And I’ve got to take a path to make sure I gain yardage.’ Otherwise, I had to face Vince Lombardi. And facing him was very, very difficult — especially for me.”
As it turns out, Brown made a lot of smart decisions. In his rookie season, his only one with Lombardi (who died the next year), Brown set a franchise record with 888 yards rushing. A year later, he led the league in rushing with 1,125 yards, another franchise record. And in 1972, he broke the team record again, this time with an NFC-high 1,216 yards, leading Washington to the Super Bowl.
That’s the year Miami went 17-0. It’s also the year Larry Brown was the league MVP, and for good reason. He averaged 101.3 yards rushing per game.
In that season, he ran for a personal-best 191 yards vs. the Giants — what Brown on this week’s broadcast called his greatest achievement. The following season, 1973, he scored four times vs. Philadelphia in a contest where he ran for 150 yards. And all because … well, all because he ran scared.
“So what was it about Lombardi that made him extraordinary?” we asked Brown.
“He would chew you out,” he said. “And just when you’re really down — because he beat up on you in front of your peers — he would come over and say something to you like … well, he told me once, ‘Larry, you can call me anything you want to. But just don’t let me hear you.’ So with things like that, you’d say, ‘Well, this guy is a nice guy. He’s OK.’ ”