Catching Up With ... former Colt Ray Brown
Each Tuesday in The Toy Department, veteran Baltimore Sun sportswriter Mike Klingaman tracks down a former local sports figure and lets you know what's happening in his/her life in a segment called. "Catching Up With ... " Let Klingaman know who you'd like him to find and click here to check out previous editions of "Catching Up With ... "
On one wall of Ray Brown’s office hangs his law diploma and other professional awards. Across the room are a different set of treasures – team photos of the 1958 and 1959 world champion Baltimore Colts, for whom Brown played.
Guess where his visitors head first.
"It’s always football," said Brown, 72, a Mississippi attorney who helped put the Colts on the NFL map.
Don’t remember Ray Brown? He played three seasons in Baltimore, then quit the game to join the bar. Yet he had a big role in the team’s first title run 51 years ago.
A rookie safety in 1958, Brown started every game for the Colts, the only first-year player to do so that season. His eight interceptions tied for the club lead. He also punted, and his lofty 51-yard average in the Colts’ 23-17 sudden-death victory over the New York Giants remains an NFL championship game record.
His secret that day?
"Adrenalin," Brown said.
All of this, he achieved while also attending law school at the University of Maryland in Baltimore.
"I’d get up every morning, grab a brown-bag lunch from my wife and go to classes," he said. "Then I’d zip up to Memorial Stadium and eat lunch while studying films. After practice, I’d go home and work on my law briefs."
Did he ever sleep?
"It wasn’t that bad," Brown said of the regimen. "Those were great times with the Colts. We were grateful to be playing, and there were no prima donnas or (sports) agents or drugs. It was a different game."
In 1959, besides his defensive chores, Brown became understudy to quarterback to John Unitas.
"John called most of his own plays, but occasionally Weeb (Ewbank, the coach) would send one in," Brown said. Once, he recalled, Ewbank relayed to Unitas these directions: "Just score."
The Colts repeated as champs.
Brown played one more year and then, at age 25, he walked away. Why? The Colts had slipped to fourth place. Brown needed knee surgery. And he was near to getting that law degree, which came in 1962.
His diligence paid off. That summer, he took a coveted job as law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark. Two years after leaving football, Brown walked those hallowed halls in Washington, D.C. But it couldn’t match the thrill of stepping on the field at Yankee Stadium for the ’58 title game, he said.
"What a fantastic time we had," said Brown. "I remember driving home from New York with my family after the game, stopping for dinner at a Howard Johnson’s and having the waitress say, ‘Mr. Brown, your family’s meal has been paid for by a Colts’ fan (who’d already left the restaurant).’
"The guy hadn’t even asked for autographs. That’s how grateful people were that we’d won."
A practicing attorney for 46 years, Brown started his own law firm in 1987 and still works from his home in Gautier, Miss. Married 51 years, he has three children, eight grandchildren and a cranky right knee that is giving him fits "from kicking thousands of punts as a player."
Past president of the Mississippi Bar, Brown wears his ’58 Colts championship ring and, on occasion, the blue-and-white team jacket that the club gave him. At 195 pounds, he hasn’t gained an ounce.
Two years ago, the Wall Street Journal selected an all-time law football team including, among others, former President Gerald Ford, the late Supreme Court Justice Byron (Whizzer) White . . . and Brown, the Colts’ fifth-round draft pick from Mississippi.
"When I saw that article, I thought, ‘My goodness,’ " Brown said. "Then I framed it and hung it on the wall with the rest."
Top photo: AP; Bottom photo: George C. Cook / Baltimore Sun