(EDITOR’S NOTE: To access the David Baker interview, click on the following attached audio: ▶ Ep 16: Conversation With The President/CEO of the Pro Football Hall of Fame David Baker | The Eye Test for Two | Spreaker)
There have been 346 individuals elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, some better known than others and some more popular than others. But there’s one Gold Jacket who commands more respect than everyone – and not just from fans. From his Gold Jacket colleagues, too.
And that’s Jim Brown.
The former Cleveland Browns’ star is so revered among living Hall of Famers that Hall-of-Fame voter Ira Kaufman, co-host of “The Eye Test for Two” podcast, suggested to the Hall’s president and CEO, David Baker, that — from what Kaufman witnessed — Brown seems in a league all his own among Canton’s elite.
Baker didn’t disagree.
“Absolutely,” he said on the latest “Eye Test for Two” broadcast. “And I don’t know if it’s because he’s the greatest football player of all time — which many think he is — or it’s just because they respect the man and the journey he’s made and the social justice issues that he was into back then (in the 1960s).
“But I‘ll tell you: We went to Israel twice and met with Benjamin Netanyahu (the country’s prime minister) and other guys … and he doesn’t know the difference between Jerry Jones and Jerry Rice. But he knows what that gold jacket stands for.
“So I would frequently be in a position of introducing the guys we had with us. We had Joe Montana, Roger Staubach, Cris Carter … all kinds of stars. And when you would mention their names the crowd gives them a standing ovation. But when you mention Jim Brown’s name — and I introduced him — all the other Gold Jackets would stand up.”
Considered the greatest back of all time, Brown played nine seasons with the Cleveland Browns and was a nine-time Pro Bowler, nine-time All-Pro (including eight first-team selections), eight-time NFL rushing leader and three-time league MVP. He was also a 1964 NFL champion.
“Nobody ever ran with a football like James Nathaniel Brown,” wrote Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray. “Jim Brown wasn’t a player; he was a Force.”
He ran for 1,863 rushing yards in 1963, a total that remains a Cleveland single-season record and the oldest rushing mark of any NFL franchise. What’s more, his average of 133 yards rushing per game is exceeded only by O.J. Simpson’s 143.1 in 1973. Not surprisingly, when he retired after the 1965 season, Jim Brown led the league in career rushing yards with 12,312 – a record that stood until Hall-of-Famer Walter Payton broke it in 1984.
It is those figures – and the indelible memory of Brown running over and through would-be tacklers – that remain with football fans and Hall of Famers today. But it’s more than numbers and accolades that contribute to Brown’s uncommon standing, said Baker.
“I do think there’s some of that,” he acknowledged, “and I would respectfully say (that), yes, it has a lot to do with him as a dominant football player. But I also think it has a lot to do with him as a man.
“When we were in Israel I had some conversations with him on the bus and in the hotel and other stuff, and, frankly, I will tell you that I would’ve crawled on my hands and knees to the other side of the Earth to have the conversations I had with him.
“But I think there’s a little bit of that with every one of our guys. Guys in the league … they’re millionaires overnight, they’re dealing with all kinds of fame and all kinds of people grabbing at them.
“Our guys in the Hall of Fame have the benefit of time, and that time gives them perspective. And they’re different people today looking back on that experience and all they learned — Jim Brown is – than they were then.”