Raymond Brown, an Ole Miss football and baseball great and an accomplished lawyer, was supposed to be in New Orleans this weekend for his induction into the inaugural class of the Sugar Bowl Hall of Fame on Monday.
Instead, Brown died on Christmas Day, suffering an apparent heart attack while walking his dog at his Pascagoula home. He was 81. Funeral services are Friday morning.
“Man oh man, he was looking forward to New Orleans and the Sugar Bowl deal,” Ray Brown, Jr., his son, said Thursday. “He was just amazed that all these years later, people still remember what he did that day so long ago.”
That day was Jan. 1, 1958. Ole Miss faced off against Texas in a Sugar Bowl that just as well could have been called the Raymond Brown Bowl.
Get this: Brown, a quarterback and defensive back, rushed for 157 yards and two touchdowns on just 15 carries. He intercepted three passes. He completed three passes for another 24 yards. He kept the Longhorns bottled up all day long with his punting. Ole Miss won 39-7.
And then there was that one play, the one that still stands as the longest offensive play in Sugar Bowl history. We’ll let Robert Khayat, Brown’s teammate and later the highly successful Ole Miss chancellor, describe it:
“It was a close game at the time Raymond was standing two or three yards deep in our end zone to punt the ball. When he received the snap, Texas players were already on him. There was no time to punt so he just took off running. And, boy, did he run …”
Brown, wearing no. 15 in a blue jersey, darted to his left, dodged a pair of Longhorn players before he got out of the backfield, dodged another down the field and then out-raced the rest.
It was a 92-yard touchdown.
“I had no alternative but to run,” Brown told sports writers after the game. “The punt would have been blocked. … I was worn out about halfway down the field, but all I could see was blue shirts. I knew I was free when I saw Jackie Simpson turn around and look for somebody to block.”
Simpson, an Ole Miss lineman, followed Brown into the end zone, and Khayat has the rest of that story, which he tells with a chuckle:
“Jackie was yelling, ‘Lateral the ball to me, Ray, lateral the ball to me!’ But Raymond wasn’t about to lateral that ball.”
At the end of the game Brown was a unanimous winner of the MVP Trophy, garnering all 116 first place votes.
And that’s why when the Sugar Bowl introduces its inaugural Hall of Fame class Monday, Brown, along with Archie Manning, will be two of the 16 inductees. You may recognize the names of some of the others: Bear Bryant, Frank Broyles, Herschel Walker, Bo Jackson, Tony Dorsett, Sammy Baugh, Davey O’Brien, Dan Marino and Pepper Rodgers, to name a few.
“It’s a Who’s Who of college football,” Ray Brown, Jr., said. “I can’t tell you how proud Dad was to be in that group.”
Archie Manning knows. He was the one who delivered the news to Raymond Brown that he had been selected for the inaugural class.
“Oh my gosh, Raymond was so pumped about it,” Manning says. “But you look at the numbers in that game in 1958 and I’m not sure anyone ever has had a better Sugar Bowl.”
Know this: Raymond Brown was far from a one-trick pony when it comes to football or life.
He was a star on offense, defense and special teams of Ole Miss football teams that won 26 games, lost five and tied one. He led the SEC in passing in 1956 and in total offense in 1957. He was an outstanding third baseman and slugger on the 1956 Ole Miss baseball team that advanced the College World Series. Later, in professional football, he was a standout defensive back and punter for the Baltimore Colts who won the NFL Championship over the New York Giants in 1959.
Off the field? He was an straight-A student both as an undergraduate and later in law school. He would clerk for Supreme Court justice Byron “Whizzer” White. And he would become the youngest president of the Mississippi State Bar in 1977 at age of 40.
Says famed trial lawyer Dickie Scruggs, “Raymond was a shrewd, well-prepared lawyer who helped launch my law career. I loved the guy. I’m going to miss him.”
Anyone who knew Raymond Brown knows how proud he was of his athletic accomplishments. And perhaps that was because of how hard he worked to achieve it all.
Says Khayat, “If you asked me to describe Raymond as an athlete or a human being, I’d just say he was rock-solid. Whatever he did, he was committed to doing it the absolute best he could and that was usually a whole lot better than most others could do.”