State Your Case: Larry Brown

NFL MVP in 1972

(Published March 2016)

Terrell Davis had a four-year window of greatness with the Denver Broncos. He won a rushing title, an NFL MVP award and two Super Bowls from 1995-98 before a knee injury destroyed his career.

Is that short of a career, as brilliant as it was, enough to merit a bust in Canton for Davis?

If so, we should go back and re-examine the career of Larry Brown.

Like Davis, Brown had a four-year window of greatness as a running back. Like Davis, Brown was the best running back in the NFL during his four-year stretch from 1969-72. He won a rushing title, an NFL MVP award and his legs powered the Washington Redskins to a Super Bowl.

Unlike Davis, though, Brown has been forgotten with the passage of time. He has never been a Hall-of-Fame finalist — and there has never been an outcry of injustice over his omission from Canton as there has been for Davis.

Larry Brown deserves better.

Brown arrived in Washington as an eighth-round draft pick out of Kansas State in 1969. He was the only impact player Vince Lombardi found in his first and only draft as general manager of the Redskins. But what an impact Brown had.

He would rush for 888 yards as a rookie to finish fourth in the NFL and deliver the Redskins their first winning season in 14 years (7-5-2). He followed that with a 1,125-yard effort in 1970, becoming the first Redskin to win an NFL rushing crown in 32 years. He gained 948 more yards in 1971 to propel the Redskins into their first post-season in 26 years.

But the best was yet to come. Brown rushed for a career-best 1,216 yards to win an NFC rushing crowd in 1972 and also caught 32 passes, scoring 12 touchdowns. He was named the NFL MVP as the Redskins advanced to the first Super Bowl in franchise history.

Brown rushed for 4,177 yards over those four seasons, tops in the NFL, and went to four consecutive Pro Bowls. The only other back to attend four Pro Bowls during that same window was Floyd Little, who is in the Hall of Fame. Brown also caught 119 passes during the first four years of his career and finished in the league’s top four in total offensive touches all four seasons.

But Brown was not a big back, only 5-11, 195 pounds, and the heavy workload took a toll on his body. He continued to start the next two seasons, and Washington returned to the playoffs each year. But his greatest contribution came in the passing game. His rushing yards fell off to 860 in 1973 and 430 in 1974. But he posted the two best receiving seasons of his career, catching 40 passes for 482 yards and seven touchdowns in 1973 and 37 passes for 388 yards and four more scores in 1974.

Brown wound up playing only eight seasons and was finished by the age of 29. He’s been eligible for the Hall for 35 years, but his name has never come up in the discussion.

“My understanding has always been that the Hall of Fame is based on your contribution to the game,” Brown said. “The fact that my number (43) has never been back on the field would indicate how much the Washington Redskins appreciated my performance on the field.”

In addition to his jersey number being placed in mothballs, Brown was named one of the 70 Greatest Redskins during the franchise’s 70th anniversary and one of the 80 Greatest Redskins during the 80th anniversary.

Larry Brown was a great player whether the Hall of Fame wants to recognize that or not.

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