By Tom Piatak
I am too young to have seen Jim Brown play for the Cleveland Browns. Which means I am too young to have seen him play professional football, because the Browns are the only NFL team he ever played for.
The Dirty Dozen star retired when he was still the best player at his position in football.
Among the people I trust who did see him play, the consensus has never changed: this man was the best player at his position to ever play in the NFL.
I first remember hearing that sentiment in 1970 or so, not long after the retirement. I have heard it expressed many times since.
It was true then, it is true now, and I suspect it always will be true: Jim Brown simply was a phenomenal, even magical athlete.
He was such a great athlete that the game he dominated wasn’t even his favorite sport. He preferred lacrosse.
My Dad saw Jim Brown play for the Browns many times in Cleveland Municipal Stadium, but even the best seats there were pretty far from the action. There was no place in that huge edifice where you felt you could almost reach out and touch the players.
But my Dad did see Brown up close once, at the Howard Johnson’s near the Ohio Turnpike exit in Strongsville. My Dad asked my Mom if she recognized the person sitting near them. She did not.
My Dad did. He did not ask for an autograph. He simply looked at him, in wonder. Brown was a big, strong man, my Dad told me, but when he got up to leave the restaurant, he moved with a grace and an ease reminiscent of a big cat on the prowl.
No wonder no one could tackle him. It was like a pack of dogs trying to stop a panther.
Jim Brown, Resquiescat in Pace.