Jim Brown, who many consider to be the greatest running back of all time, stood at the podium set up in the gymnasium at Manhasset High School Monday and admitted to the student body that some that packed the bleachers had no idea who he was.
Though it may be hard to imagine students at the 77-year-old’s high school alma mater being unfamiliar with Brown, who dominated in five sports while at Manhasset in the early 1950s before a storied athletic career at Syracuse University and Hall of Fame football career with the Cleveland Browns, they were certainly well-acquainted with him after the assembly that took place during last period, in which representatives from AllState Insurance and the Pro Football Hall of Fame awarded Brown and the school as part of its “Hometown Hall of Famers” program.
“This school formed my life. It gave me my foundation. It gave me my confidence,” Brown said. “It pointed out to me the value of education, the value of knowledge and wisdom. It taught me never to give up. It taught me that all of us are god’s children.”
Brown was presented with a plaque designed similar to the one that bears his name and likeness at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, that will hang at Manhasset High School. Football Hall of Fame representative George Veras said the plaque makes Manhasst High School the 69th official high school extension of the museum.
“When you go through the hallways and you see this plaque, realize that those steps and the lessons Mr. Brown learned here are the same ones that are being applied to you today,” Veras said. “And that doesn’t mean that you need to take those lessons and to get to Canton, Ohio. What it means is to apply those lessons to be a hall of famer in your own right and in your own field.”
Brown was also honored April 27 with the re-opening of Manhasset Valley Park, as a new multi-purpose field was named in his honor.
The son of a domestic, Brown grew up on the Great Neck side of Lee Road, and his mother had to “use a little bit of trickery” to make sure her son could attend school in Manhasset.
“Manhasset was a very rich community, a very affluent community, and at no time did we worry about racism and prejudice,” Brown said. “This was an example of how people should be treated.”
A 1953 graduate of Manhasset High School, Brown joked with friends and teammates in attendance that he wasn’t even the fastest man in the backfield for coach Ed Walsh’s teams, placing himself third behind tailback Michael Corley and quarterback Jim Wagner.
But to his teammates, just having played alongside Brown, who in addition to being the only member of both the pro football and lacrosse hall of fames was also once given the chance to play baseball in the Yankees organization, is an honor they’ve been able to cherish throughout the years.
“It’s pretty easy to become the alpha male in the room when you mention that you played high school football with Jim Brown,” said Dick Clark, one of Brown’s Manhasset football teammates.
Brown played nine seasons from 1957-65 with the Cleveland Browns and did not miss a single game because of injury, retiring on his own terms after winning the NFL’s MVP award for the third time in his career. He was named to nine Pro Bowls and led the league in rushing each year except 1962, in which he finished 478 yards behind Green Bay’s Jim Taylor.
Brown was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971 and named to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time team in 1994.
Once his career ended, Brown acted in films such as “The Dirty Dozen” and “Ice Station Zebra,” and has become known more recently for his inner-city social activism and outspoken nature.
“A lot of you that have known me over the years know that I’m a bit tenacious,” Brown said. “I love success and I work real hard to try and be successful. Over the years, there have been many controversial situations, but in the end, here I am sharing this great moment with all of you, who I call family.”