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Archive for Sunday, May 22, 2005

Brown dominated lacrosse, too

Football great was legendary player at Syracuse

May 22, 2005

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— Heh-heh-heh.

Jim Brown laughed that slow but sincere laugh, smiled that trademark little half smile and went backward in time to the day when he dominated his favorite sport - lacrosse.

"I loved the game," said Brown, 69. "We played because we loved it."

And nobody played it quite as well as Brown did a half-century ago.

Maybe ever.

Regarded by many as the greatest running back in the history of the NFL - where he intimidated foes with his icy glare, head-straightening stiff arms and bruising runs in nine record-breaking seasons with the Cleveland Browns - imagine him in his heyday playing lacrosse.

Imagine trying to stop a 6-foot-2, 235-pound tower of muscle in a sport where players wear virtually no protection, except gloves and a helmet, and most stars usually weigh in at around 160 - soaking wet.

Heh-heh-heh.

"I can't even imagine playing against a guy like that on the football field with his pure athleticism and aggression," said Brian Crockett, who led Syracuse's lacrosse team in scoring this season. "I can't even imagine him on a lacrosse field. No one could keep up with that guy. Fortunately for us, there aren't too many lacrosse players with that build and that athleticism. Otherwise, we'd all be out of a job."

Brown, the only person to be inducted into the halls of fame for pro football, college football and lacrosse, was an All-Star lacrosse midfielder at Manhasset High on Long Island, N.Y.

"Lacrosse was his best sport," said 92-year-old Ed Walsh, Brown's football coach in high school. "He had all the skills, and his skills were better than all the opponents."

Thanks to the efforts of Manhasset attorney Ken Molloy, who played lacrosse at Syracuse, Brown enrolled in 1953 and immediately came under the watchful eye of Orange lacrosse coach Roy Simmons Sr., who also was an assistant to football coach Ben Schwartzwalder. One of the few black athletes on campus, Brown struggled to get noticed.

Because Brown concentrated so much on football, was the second-leading scorer on the basketball team and also starred in track and field in the discus, high jump and sprints, he didn't play much lacrosse until his junior year. Still, it didn't take long for opponents to notice his prowess.

"I was bigger than everybody. I had a lot of size," Brown said nonchalantly. "But see, I came from Long Island, so I had a lot of experience at the stick. I played in junior high school, then I played in high school. The technical aspect of the game was my forte. I had all that experience, then I had strength, and I was in good condition."

And everyone marveled at his skill, especially his teammates.

"I wish you could have seen him at faceoffs," said Jim Ridlon, an honorable mention All-America defenseman on that 1957 team. "He'd just run right over them. He must have won every faceoff."

According to statistics from US Lacrosse, Brown scored 30 goals as a junior and followed that with 43 goals and 21 assists as a first-team All-America midfielder in 1957, his senior season. Syracuse went 10-0, completing its first perfect season since 1922 with an 8-6 victory over archrival Army.

The season-ending triumph snapped an 18-game losing streak against the Black Knights and provided Brown with a crowning moment. Current head coach John Desko has a large black-and-white photo hanging from his office wall that shows Brown in that game, and his uniform is a little bit different from those of his teammates.

"He was at a track meet that morning. We beat Colgate, our nemesis in track, by 13 points, and Jim scored 13 points (in three events)," said Roy Simmons Jr., who succeeded his father as head coach in 1971 and stayed for 28 years, building the Orange into a lacrosse powerhouse.

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