Oct. 14, 2015
Note: Former Irish greats Tim Brown and Jerome Bettis will be honored at Saturday’s ND-USC football game. Bettis and Brown were inducted in August into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Tim Brown didn’t plan on being long-winded during his Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement speech.
But after spending 17 seasons in the league, then suffering through five failed votes before finally being selected on his sixth try, Brown owes no apologies for his speech running over by a few minutes.
Accompanied by a long guest list of friends, family members, former teammates and even business associates, Brown took the stage in Canton, Ohio, last August to savor a once-in-a-lifetime moment that was long overdue for the last Notre Dame Heisman Trophy winner and the sixth leading wide receiver in National Football League history.
“I was telling people that this was going to be the easiest-hardest speech that I ever had to give,” says Brown, whose presentation lasted 31 minutes, or less than two minutes for every season he spent in the NFL. “The easiest part was because you know exactly how you want the speech to go. You know exactly who you want to thank. You know your story better than anybody in the building, so from that standpoint, it was easy.
“But from a standpoint of emotions, you just have no clue how all that is going to go. Watching the enshrinement so many years, seeing everybody crying — and I mean doing the `ugly cry’ not just crying –there is something about that moment that makes everybody just want to lose it.”
Working alongside more than 20 different starting quarterbacks during his 16 years with the Raiders and one with the Buccaneers, the best NFL receiver ever to come from Notre Dame earned his place in the Hall of Fame by routinely emerging as the go-to guy for almost all 20 of them.
Part of Brown’s large support group in Canton was fellow HOF wide receiver and former Raiders teammate, James Lofton, the man who Brown credits with smoothing his transition from college to pros.
“Tim was unique in that he caught a lot of passes between the numbers,” Lofton says. “Where some guys didn’t want to do the dirty work, he didn’t mind the dirty work. He got yards after catch, he had great hands; he had superior speed.
“But one of the things that really separated Tim from a lot of players is that he was smart. Anybody who has ever been around him for any length of time knows he is an intelligent guy off the field, but he was super smart on the field.”
And Lofton’s assessment of his understudy’s character and intellect brings us back to the primary message Brown said he was trying to deliver during his induction speech.
“I think the main theme that I tried to hit was the power of the positive people that I had in my life all the way back to when I was growing up,” says Brown, one of the best high school players ever to come out of Dallas. “Maybe if those people are different, then maybe I’m a different player, maybe I’m a different person, who knows? But I had so many positive people that kept feeding into me and kept seeing things in me that I didn’t even see in myself.
“It got to the point where these people taught me that I just had to bear down, not only on the football field, but in the classrooms and in life and everyplace. I think from that standpoint that was the main point I wanted to highlight. I wanted to thank those people for playing the role that they played in my life.”
Through 17 NFL seasons, 267 games, 1,094 receptions, 105 touchdowns and almost 12 miles in total yards, “Mr. Raider” set about 10 league records during a majestic career that included both productivity and longevity marks.
*As far as productivity: Brown set the NFL rookie record in 1988 for the most combined yards with 2,317. He remains the only NFL wideout to enjoy 10 consecutive seasons with at least 75 receptions, and he holds an NFL record with 147 consecutive games with at least two catches (1993-2002). He also remains the Raiders all-time punt return leader with 3,272 yards and three touchdowns.
*As far as longevity: Brown holds the NFL record with 176 consecutive starts by a wide receiver and he tallied more than 1,000 receiving yards in the nine straight seasons between 1993 and 2001. He’s also an 11-time NFL Pro-Bowl selection, and at age 36, he became the oldest player to record 12 or more receptions in game, hitting the Kansas City Chiefs with 13 catches for 144 yards in 2002.
Hall of Fame cornerback, fellow Texan, and former Raider teammate, Michael Haynes, said it was Brown’s fearlessness as a wide receiver that made him such an attractive target for so many seasons and so many different quarterbacks.
“When the game was on the line, or they need a big play, or a first down, he’d come up with those catches,” Haynes says. “Kudos to him [on being enshrined]. I’m glad to have him on my team again.”
And while Brown never openly expressed any disappointment or frustration while he waited through six HOF votes to finally earn his place, he admitted that this selection and the reaction in Canton from his friends, family and even acquaintances, helped to validate everything he accomplished as a player and a person.
“The one thing that I was amazed by [in Canton] is how everybody who was there was so overwhelmed by the whole deal,” Brown says. “Everybody had tears in their eyes, everybody was so caught up and wrapped up in the whole deal that at times it was hard for me to speak.
“I think for me, that was the high point because I expected that reaction from folks who have been around me but right down to the casual friends, everybody seemed to be very emotional.”
Yardage, touchdowns and tears aside, what most separates Brown from so many other professional athletes is a desire to excel in all facets of his life — football, family, business and community — an important balancing act he perfected during his four years at Notre Dame from 1984 to 1987.
“Notre Dame is a place where I became a man,” Brown says in retrospect. “I was 17 years old when I got to campus but I left there a grown man with major responsibilities and a lot of things going on. I did more growing up during those four years than in any other time of my life. My time at Notre Dame made my jump to the NFL much easier.”
And even at the highest level, Brown often made the game look very easy.
Brown returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown the first time he ever touched the ball as a professional. He remains the only player in Raiders history to score on a rush, reception, kick return and punt return, and he still holds nearly every receiving and scoring record for this proud NFL organization.
All amazing individual accomplishments, for sure, but there remains one career disappointment for Brown in that he never won a championship during his 27 years of playing organized football.
The closest Brown came was in the 2003 Super Bowl against the Buccaneers, a game his Raiders were convincingly beaten 48-21.
“When you get [to age] 34, 35, 36, in the league, you stop saying you want to win a championship, and start saying, `Lord, let me play in a championship game,'” says Brown, who retired at the age of 38. “And I did have that opportunity. It wasn’t the experience I was looking for, but I’m certainly glad I had that experience.”
Brown caught 45 passes for 581 yards and three touchdowns in six playoff seasons and 12 total playoff games, losing twice in the AFC Championship game, while reaching just the one Super Bowl.
“I only had one shot at a championship,” Brown says. “But I’m thankful and grateful that I did have that one shot.”
Playing his first two seasons at Notre Dame under coach Gerry Faust (1984-85) and his final two under coach Lou Holtz (1986-87), when the new Irish skipper was still in program restoration mode, Brown wasn’t part of any glory days of irish football.
And, of course, as Brown’s near-miss title timing would have it, Holtz led the Irish to the national championship in 1988, one year after Brown had graduated and become the sixth overall pick in the NFL Draft.
But spending four years playing on some average teams at Notre Dame never diminished Brown’s love for a University he still recognizes for molding him into the stand-up person he’s become.
“Those four years, when I look back on them,” Brown says, “it was a time for me to really mature and to learn how to take care of myself, and become the man that I am supposed to be.”
Upon retirement from football in 2004, Brown, now 49, moved back to Dallas with wife of almost 19 years, Sherice, and his four children, including 12-year-old twins.
Brown is a popular sports radio personality with Westwood One and Sirius Radio, and he’s also a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist, dabbling in everything from nutritional supplement sales with his company smartliving81 and charity work through smartgivingcards81.
“We’re keeping plenty busy,” says Brown, who is also an avid golfer with about a six handicap.
After decades of service to a team, a family and a community, nobody is more deserving of this Hall of Fame selection than Brown, even if his special day took longer than expected to arrive.
“You know, sometimes you have to wait your turn,” Brown says humbly. “I came into this year hoping for better things, and it happened for me. I’m delighted to be sitting here representing the Raiders and my Notre Dame families.”
— By Todd Burlage