Allen Brown was a big, strapping man with a kind, sweet, humble nature about him. He was a football hero, but you would never know it unless somebody else – not Brown – brought it up.
Brown died Monday following a lengthy illness in his beloved hometown of Natchez. He was 76.
This is Super Bowl week in America, so perhaps we should begin with this: Brown was a member of those legendary, Vince Lombardi-coached Green Bay Packers teams that won the first two Super Bowls. Green Bay routed Kansas City 35-10 in the first Super Bowl in 1967 and then trounced Oakland 33-14 the following year. Brown, a valuable member of both those teams, played in neither of those games. And there is a story behind that.
Football, we all know, can be a brutal sport. Brown knew it all too well. A knee injury late in the season caused Brown to miss the first Super Bowl. He could have gone to the game in Los Angeles with the team but chose to watch it at home with friends in Natchez.
In 1968, Brown watched the Super Bowl from a hospital bed. That’s because of what happened in the Packers’ last regular season game. Brown once told me the story. “There was a fumble and I dived into the pile to try to get the ball,” he said. “Something hit me in my side. I think it was somebody’s knee but it might have been somebody’s helmet. I knew right then I had broken ribs.”
But he didn’t know the half of it.
Yes, he had suffered broken ribs, three of which had to be removed. He also suffered a ruptured spleen, which was also removed – and, a badly damaged kidney. He could have died. He lost 51 pounds down to 167 before he began the long road to recovery.
That led to a decision. He had loved playing for the Packers. He admired Lombardi, who, he said, was demanding but fair. He loved the competition and the camaraderie inherent in the sport. But…
“I decided that was enough football,” Brown said, which seems a really wise decision all these years later. Brown moved back to his beguiling hometown overlooking the Mississippi River where he has been a community leader for the past five decades.
Brown’s Ole Miss career was also plagued by injuries, but still he managed to make several All American teams (including Associated Press) as a senior and All-SEC as both a junior and a senior. As a sophomore in 1962, he played on the only undefeated and untied team in Ole Miss history. Glynn Griffing, that team’s starting quarterback, called Brown “a great player, a really tough player.”
“But more than that,” Griffing said, “Allen was just a genuinely good guy, so nice and kind – so much so he didn’t really fit the mold of a tough, rough-edged football player. But when he got on the field, he was all business and he could play.”
Brown played offense, defense and special teams at Ole Miss but garnered all his honors and accolades as a blocking tight end. He was dependable receiver when called upon, catching 51 passes for 584 yards and three touchdowns over his career. He was selected for the old College All-Star game in Chicago, the Blue-Gray game and the Senior Bowl. He helped the Rebels to a 22-6-3 record, two Sugar Bowls and two Southeastern Conference championships during his varsity career.
Even long after his career ended, the honors continued to come to him. He was inducted into the Ole Miss Hall of Fame in 1989 and the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 2010.
Allen Brown was nothing if not an Ole Miss Rebel. It ran in the family. His older brother, Jerry, was an outstanding tackle at Ole Miss and also played pro ball. A nephew, Alton Brown, also played for the Rebels. And it goes on. Sons Tim and Burkes Brown were offensive linemen for Ole Miss. A grandson, Ben, has earned two varsity letters as a Rebel offensive lineman and will be a junior this coming season.
Quite obviously, Ben Brown is following in some mighty big footsteps. The Brown family legacy in Ole Miss football is right in there with the Mannings and the Pooles.
Said Griffing, “Honestly, I can’t think of many people I have looked up to and admired as much as Allen Brown.”