By Dr. Ken 


I often observe my collection of game worn and HELMET HUT authentic reproduction helmets and marvel at the memories they evoke, a theme I have frequently noted in this series of columns. Though I am similar to most football fans and have one or two favorite teams, it would be more accurate to state that I have “favored teams” and that my attraction and loyalty to them has through the decades, waxed and waned dependent upon many factors. I “am” a Giants fan having been born and raised in the New York Metropolitan area, and they were the first professional football team I was aware of. In truth however, I “was” a Giants fan of the teams that spanned the time period of 1956 through 1966 and even the latter few teams in that era took second seat to the excellence of the Green Bay Packers of the Lombardi era and on the opposite end of the spectrum, the frustration producing Steelers of the early to late 1960’s. Specific players would hold my interest or an offensive or defensive group would cause me to have a deep respect for their hard and intense play and for a year, three years, or longer, I truly would be a fan. Though true, die-hard fans of one team that has held a life time attraction for them would snicker at my above description of myself as “a fan,” my undivided attention and emotional outlay was as spirited and meaningful for me even if for a brief time, and whether my attention was absorbed by multiple teams simultaneously. At one time or another, I was a fan of every American Football League team except the Raiders and Dolphins. The Oilers, and especially Charley Tolar and Billy Cannon were the big favorites as the AFL began and they remained a favorite through good years and very bad ones, until the merger with the NFL. Despite what I felt was a “close connection” with the Oilers, their uniforms, the fortunes dictated by the won-loss record, and the performance of many individual players, I also wanted to see the Broncos do well when a number of local Long Island players populated the squad. The Jets had some moments as a “must see” team as I was fortunate to attend a number of Titans games, was acquainted and trained with a few of them and later, enjoyed Joe Namath’s consideration as he drove me into Manhattan from the Jets’ Hofstra University training site. I enjoyed the Texans and Chiefs because of the redemption of Len Dawson, and some identification with short, strong running backs Mack Lee Hill and Robert “The Tank” Holmes. I had an affinity for the play of Keith Lincoln though I was not a Chargers fan per se, and respected the rushing game of the Bills’ Wray Carlton and Cookie Gilchrist. With friends in New England and taking advantage of being able to visit and train in the Boston area, I had “a thing” for the Boston Patriots, especially with Ron Burton as their backfield threat.


I could have been mistaken for a fan of numerous NFL teams too, but the one team that rarely held much interest for reasons that even I did not understand, was the Minnesota Vikings. As a supporter of underdogs, the Vikings certainly qualified in their first few seasons as they struggled against the better teams, utilizing a sub-par roster of over-the-hill performers. Arguably Hugh “The King” McEIhenny still had gas in his tank during the expansion team’s 1961 and ’62 seasons but as the younger players developed, most of the other starters were stop-gap level pros. The one Vikings player I enjoyed and who personified the type of play I always tried to emulate was Bill Brown, a fullback they acquired from the Chicago Bears. As an ardent follower of college football, even at a very young age, I was aware of both Tom Brown and Bill Brown who excelled in the Big Ten. Tom was an All American at Minnesota and won the Outland Trophy and almost every other award as the nation’s best lineman after the 1960 football season. Bill joined Tom on the All Big Ten team as a fullback from the University Of Illinois and until told otherwise, thought that they might have been brothers or cousins as I was already aware that Bill and his brother Jim played in the same backfield for the Illini.


The beautifully simple helmet style worn by Bill Brown during his playing days at the University Of Illinois. Shown is the number 32 made both famous and infamous by the great Ray Nitschke, also a fullback during the Bill Brown era. Brown, as per photo below, wore number 39


Our high school track coach was a statistics buff and kept us aware of every track and field event of note, thus I also knew that Bill Brown was the reigning Big Ten shot put champion. While Tom went to the Canadian Football League and a Hall Of Fame career, Bill Brown did not hit his stride right out of the gate as a pro and was traded to the Vikings after an uneventful rookie season with the Bears. Even with the Vikings, later reports revealed that there was consideration given to cutting him prior to his consistently improving performances in 1963 and his break out season of ’64. Proving to be one of the toughest men on the Vikings squad, he was given his apt and descriptive nickname when a 1963 newspaper photo of him was titled, “Boom Boom Booms Again.” Not particularly liking the moniker, he “learned to live with it” and later embraced it, autographing many items with the inscription, Bill “Boom Boom” Brown. While one “boom” would have described his running style well, boom-boom was appropriate.

Listed as 5’11” and variously as 220 – 230 pounds through a fourteen year professional career, Brown was described in a 1964 Sports Illustrated article as both “stumpy” and “bowlegged” and his leverage allowed him to maintain a low pad level and meet would be tacklers with an onslaught of churning thighs and shoulder pads as their target. Packers all time great defender Herb Adderley once said that tackling Brown was “like trying to tackle a rolled-up rug.”  He was given credit as both a blocker and emerging runner who was fast enough to augment his powerful inside rushes, with outside sweeps that were effective. This allowed the Vikings true backfield star Tommy Mason, the room to finally be productive. As was written in 1964, “Mason spent the previous two seasons being guarded like Willie Sutton (author’s note: for the younger generations, Sutton was a notorious bank robber from the early to mid-twentieth century), but he frequently escaped anyhow. This year the pressure on Mason has been eased by the emergence of Brown…as a runner who breaks tackles and as a receiver who can score on the deep pass. With Brown banging at the ends and ripping at the middle in his rolling, bumping, barging style, the defenses cannot afford to jam up on Mason.”  Mason was one of the obviously talented, swift, well coordinated running backs that I had difficulty relating to as I could never emulate that style on the field. Coming out of Tulane, Mason’s reputation was one of “fast and powerful” but trying to copy Hall Of Fame superstar Hugh McElhenny who came to the Vikings in the expansion draft and who tutored Mason his first two seasons, Mason lost much of his useable power by dong a bit too much dancing as he approached the holes in the defensive line. Mason recaptured his well deserved reputation as a do-it-all runner once Brown established his place in the Vikings backfield, taking on the nuts and bolts of blocking and providing a tough, pounding inside rusher.


Brown, though always unheralded and rather understated in what became a very productive career, gained notice as a Pro Bowl nominee in 1964, ’65, ’67, and 1968. Always given the heavy duty assignments, Brown responded with toughness, managing to hold numerous Vikings records by the time he hung it up, and playing in a team record 111 games as a starting running back. His 5,757 career rushing yards leaves him fourth all time on the Vikings list, with statistics just as impressive for total offensive yards and points scored. An “honor” not noted in the Vikings official list of records is the comment by the great Bronco Nagurski who stated that “Today most football players love money instead of the game. To do your best, you have to love the game. Most of these guys give up too easy, they play half the time or less, and when they get tired, they come off the field and rest. If they get hurt, even if it’s just a slight injury, they sit out for a while. I did see one guy though, who would have made it in my time. He loved the game and he was made of iron. His name is Bill Brown and he played fullback for the Minnesota Vikings.” Wow, if any endorsement held honor and esteem, this would be one of them! Running with what seemed like reckless abandon, Brown never appeared to have the talent of many other top backs in the NFL or AFL, but made up for it with toughness and a willingness to take a beating. Taking a beating for fourteen pro seasons can be explained by his toughness. This was evident by his willingness to play special teams, even as an offensive starter, and his sterling play on those special teams. As team captain, he took his role as a leader and football player seriously, no matter what his role was on any day. Serving as the team’s wedge breaker on kickoff coverage, he set an example, especially as a player in his mid-thirties, for younger teammates to aspire to. He never saw the reduction in his role as a leading ball carrier to a special teams grunt as a demotion, it was a challenge and team need he was called to fulfill. It earned the ultimate degree of respect of both teammates and opponents league wide.

What was not evident even up to his retirement after the 1974 season, was the respect Bill Brown earned because he was considered to be not only a tough guy, but a nice guy. Long time Minnesota sports writer and Vikings observer Jim Klobuchar said it best about Brown; “He was a real football player. A tough guy. If you have to go into a dark alley, this is the guy you want at your side because you’ll come out. On the other hand, he’s a real human being. A warm, caring person.”  Brown proved to be present when children with life threatening illnesses were in hospital beds or down-on-their-luck teammates needed his time or financial help. Interestingly, Brown won a $100,000.00 lottery prize in 2004, and a $250,000.00 Lottery’s Club Casino Scratch Game in 2007, and many who know him would say that this was no more than just rewards for one who has given so much to the community in which he played football, settled down in, and spent his time and energy enriching.