There are many appropriate words to describe Jim Brown and his impact on Syracuse University. Icon. Trailblazer. One of the best to ever play. SU’s athletics history is nonexistent without Brown, who passed away on Thursday at 87.
Brown’s success on the gridiron paved the way for the now-historic trio of number 44s. Brown was a 2-time All-American running back and went on to have an extremely successful NFL career with the Cleveland Browns. Without Brown, neither Ernie Davis nor Floyd Little, nor even Sean Tucker many years later, would have enjoyed the success they did. Brown was and is the founding father of Syracuse Football.
What isn’t talked about enough is Brown’s success in not one, not two, but three other sports when he was in Syracuse. He scored over 10 points per game as a junior on the basketball court. In 1955, Brown placed fifth nationally in the decathlon. Finally, he achieved All-American status as a lacrosse player and was so dominant to the point where rules had to be temporarily changed. In addition to being enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Brown is also in the Lacrosse Hall of Fame. In a world where multi-sport collegiate athletes are pretty uncommon, Brown’s skill in so many is a distinction not many possess.
As awesome as he was on the field, Brown’s off-field work is just as if not more notable. He served in the army for four years after participating in ROTC through college. Additionally, he, Bill Russell, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar joined forces with Muhammad Ali to pioneer civil rights in America.
We would be remiss if we didn’t talk about just how much success he went on to have in the pros. Brown averaged over 100 rush yards per game and over 5 yards per carry. In the NFL Network’s countdown of the 100 greatest NFL players of all time back in 2010, Brown slotted in at number 2 behind only Jerry Rice. He was one of 12 running backs on the NFL’s 100th-anniversary all-time team. Finally, during the National Championship Game in January 2020, ESPN crowned him the greatest college football player ever.
There never has been, nor will there ever be, anyone as accomplished as Brown since he left campus. An all-time great athlete, pioneer, and legend. May the most important athlete in Syracuse University history rest in peace.