Few NFL players have been as dominant as Jim Brown, who turns 80 on Wednesday. The former Browns running back led the NFL in rushing yards in eight of his nine pro seasons and was an eight-time All-Pro selection.
But as powerful as he was on the football field, Brown was even more of a force as a lacrosse player.
Brown grew up on Long Island, one of the few places was being played at the time, and went to college at Syracuse, another lacrosse hotbed.
“Lacrosse is probably the best sport I ever played,” he told The New York Times in 1984.
CBS aired a feature about Brown’s lacrosse career during the 1991 national championship game.
“I was a midfielder,” Brown told WBUR in 2012. “I was a center. I had the face-off. I could learn tricks. I could physically knock a person down legitimately. I could play defense and offense. As a midfielder, you get a chance to use your flat-out speed. I love speed. And a lot of times you can’t use it in certain sports the way you can in lacrosse.”
As a senior, Brown was second in the nation with 43 goals in only 10 games and a First-Team All-America selection. He once scored a hat trick against Army after competing in a track meet earlier in the day. His lacrosse exploits sound sort of mythical when recounted those who saw him firsthand.
Former coach Roy Simmons told the Times that in the 1957 college all-star game, Brown “scored one goal underhanded with his right hand, one overhanded with his right, one underhanded with his left, one overhanded with his left. There was nobody like him.”
“I could fully express myself in lacrosse,” Brown told the Times. “I could run 200 yards at a stretch, I could duck between players, I felt free to make plays that suited me best. It wasn't like football then and basketball today, where coaches tell you what foot to put down.”
In 1983, Brown was inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame. Sadly, only a brief clip exists of his on-field talents.
Brown was the first black lacrosse superstar and spoke recently about Hampton University launching a lacrosse program.
Legend has it he once said, “I'd rather play lacrosse six days a week and football on the seventh.”