(Photos courtesy of Detroit Lions)
By Ron Borges
Talk of Fame Network
Roger Brown has a life-sized statue of Hall-of-Fame Green Bay quarterback Bart Starr in his restaurant in Portsmouth, Va. It should be lying on its back.
That’s where Starr and many other quarterbacks who encountered Brown during his 10-year career as an NFL defensive tackle wound up. A six-time Pro Bowl selection, Brown was unique in many ways, not the least of them was his unusual combination of size, speed and agility.
At 6-5, 300 pounds (give or take a T-bone or two), Brown was the heaviest defensive lineman in the NFL for most of his time after arriving in Detroit as a fourth-round draft choice out of tiny Maryland-Eastern Shore in 1960. Yet Brown ran the 100-yard dash in 10 seconds flat. No wonder so many quarterbacks ended up the same way – flat – when he ran them down.
Brown was so big that the Lions couldn’t weigh him on their scale, which only went up to 250 pounds. So every Thursday he would be taken to a local train station with a few chattering teammates to see if he’d made the 280-pound limit the Lions set for him. Usually, he didn’t make it, resulting in a $10 per-pound fine.
Within two years of being drafted, Brown had perfected the use of his size and agility in devastating fashion. In 1962 he made the first of his six straight Pro Bowl appearances (1962-67) and by then had become the larger half of what some argue was the greatest defensive tackle combination in NFL history when he teamed with Alex Karras.
Together they formed the interior of the original “Fearsome Foursome,” playing alongside defensive ends Sam Williams and Darris McCord. That moniker was coined by Pontiac Press sportswriter Bruno Kearns and popularized nationally by the Lions’ play-by-play voice, Van Patrick. Truth be told, Roger Brown is the only player to play on two “Fearsome Foursomes,” taking that nickname with him to Los Angeles in 1967.
There he teamed up with Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen and Lamar Lundy to form a second devastating pass rushing crew. But it was in Detroit that the original “Fearsome Foursome” was born after Brown’s arrival, turning crushed quarterbacks into a vicious art form.
In a five-year window from 1962-1965, the Lions sacked the quarterback 235 times, including 57 in 1966. It is no coincidence that those numbers fell off the season after Brown’s departure to the Rams.
Brown became famous (or infamous if you were an opposing offensive lineman) for the head slap he first developed in college, where he taped shower flip flops to his arms to add to the impact. By the time he reached the NFL, the flip flops were gone, but the slap remained to terrorize blockers in front of him.
This was never more evident than on Thanksgiving Day 1962, a day forever known in Detroit and Green Bay as “The Thanksgiving Day Massacre.’’ That afternoon Roger Brown was the chief assassin.
The defending NFL-champion Packers came into Tiger Stadium undefeated (10-0), but the Lions were still steamed over an early-season 9-7 loss to them in Green Bay. That day the Lions were victimized by a late Herb Adderley interception that set up the winning field goal and reduced the Detroit a locker room to a bickering den between offense and defense.
But come Nov. 22, 1962, the Packers had only one thing to be thankful for: That the game was only 60 minutes long.
Brown was immense even by his huge standard, having a hand (or his entire body) in six of the 11 sacks of Starr in a 26-14 mauling of the Packers. He also caused a fumble that Williams returned for a touchdown, pinned Starr flat in the end zone for a safety and blocked a Jerry Kramer field-goal attempt. That day would have been a career for many a defensive lineman.
Brown wasted no time getting to it, either, sacking Starr in each of the first two series of the game and having a hand in four of Detroit’s eight first-half sacks. It was a day of domination for someone who made a career of it.
In 2009, Roger Brown came within a whisker of being named a Hall-of-Fame finalist as a senior candidate, an honor many of his peers believe is long overdue. Now, at 78, he remains vibrant, operating several restaurants near his Virginia home and waiting for a call from the Hall that his credentials will be debated.
It’s a call that should have been made long ago.