Roger Brown-One Fourth Of Two “Fearsome Foursomes” Dies At Age 84.

When football fans gather gather there are certain things that are likely to be discussed. Which quarterback would you want to win one game? Who was the greatest: corner-back, linebacker, running-back or wide receiver of all time? Older fans often debate which players from the past would be great in today’s game. When a giant of a man closed his eyes one final time on the 17th of September 2021, we bid farewell to a player that I feel was hall of fame worthy in his time, but would have been even better in the pass first version of the NFL.

Where It All Began

Roger Brown was born on the first of May, 1937 in Surry County, Virginia. My father and he actually ran across each other as youngsters. Both spent time in Surry County and Newport News, Virginia. However my father was a 138 pound ‘quick guard’ while by the time Brown started high school he was over 220 pounds and played fullback, later he moved to defensive tackle.

While still in his teens moved to Nyack New York. He would have had chances to play for Syracuse or in the Big 10, but he had some academic inadequacies. He originally planned to play for coach Vernon “Skip” McCain at Maryland State College [now University of Maryland-Eastern Shore], get his grades up and transfer. Instead he found a home and began to flex his entrepreneurial muscles. “Big Nyack” is how he was known as a disc jockey known and party promoter.

While at then-Maryland State from 1956-59 as a defensive lineman he was instrumental to the Hawks outscoring opponents 693 to 213. Brown was the linchpin of  defense that held opponents to 7.3 points per game. He led the Hawks to the CIAA title in 1957, becoming a two-time NAIA All-American and two-time Pittsburgh Courier Negro All-American selection.

The Path Towards Greatness

He was drafted in the fourth round, 42nd overall in the 1960 NFL Draft. When he got to Lions camp they were unable to weigh him at their facility. Once weekly he was taken to the rail-yard where freight was weighed. Weigh-in day came each Thursday, and he was struggling since he was 6’5″ 298 by the end of his college career. In the early 1960s, Brown’s team mandated weight was 280 pounds; for each extra pound he was fined $10.

Despite his size he was a rare athlete. He’d been a sprinter at Maryland State, he ran the 100-yard dash in 10 flat. Once at Lions’ camp ran a 50-yard dash in 5.4 seconds. He used his rare blend of size and speed to become a key member of the first “Fearsome Foursome” in Detroit with Alex Karras, as well as defensive ends Darris McCord and Sam Williams. It was this front that perpetrated the “Thanksgiving Day Massacre,” versus the Green Bay Packers. That day, the team set a franchise-record 11 sacks. Of them Brown had seven of the sacks.

Farewell To Great Roger Brown: A Giant Of The Game

After the 1966 season he was traded to the Los Angeles Rams to replace Rosey Grier who had torn his Achilles tendon. As a member of the sun-drenched Southern California version of the”The Fearsome Foursome” he joined hall of fame members, David “Deacon” Jones and Merlin Olsen, as well as Lamar Lundy. Once there he helped this great defensive line to continue its dominance for coach George Allen. In that season’s finale on December 17, the Rams sacked Baltimore quarterback Johnny Unitas seven times and Brown was in the backfield constantly.

A Lasting Legacy

Though he died still waiting for that call to Canton, he has received many honors including being named to: The University of f Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks Hall of Fame in 1982, the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in 1997, the College Football Hall of Fame (2009) and the Black College Football Hall of Fame (2015). In 2018, he, Karras and Herman Moore were made members of the “Pride of the Lions” ring of honor at Ford Field.

Here’s part of what Bart Starr wrote in a letter of support he sent the the Pro Football Hall Of Fame’s Senior Committee: He and Brown faced each other many times, so they came to develop a tremendous respect for each other. He wrote, “I personally believe the strength and character of an exceptional Sports Hall of Fame are directly commensurate with the quality of its members. Roger Brown brings that quality with him and deserves to be inducted in our Hall of Fame.”

A Second Career

Once his career ended, in 1969, Brown originally started in the restaurant business in Chicago. Later he opened restaurants closer to his childhood home. With no more train-yard weigh-ins, his once powerful frame swelled to 448 pounds. There are so many stories of players, particularly former linemen who have died, many with heart problems or diseases related to the amount of weight they carried.

In the 1990’s Brown was upstairs at his namesake sports bar in downtown Portsmouth VA, one of the eight restaurants he owned after his NFL career, when he passed out, hitting his head on the steps. Roger Brown, who had formerly commemorated successful weigh-ins with bountiful dinners with teammates, including 16 side dishes, and many bottles of wine, he reported, was now a victim of his appetite.

Brown was eventually hospitalized since he’d developed an irregular heartbeat and a defibrillator was inserted into chest. “A hell of a way for your body to say: ‘Stop eating.’ ” He said in an interview with the Washington Post.

The next great weight challenge of his life had nothing to do with avoiding a fine. Instead he was trying to preserve his life itself. He started accompanying his wife, Kay, to the YMCA, leaving more of his meals on the plate. He walked more and treated himself to feasts less. In the last decades of his life he weighed 227 pounds.

By The Numbers

In his career he started 124 of the 138 games he played in the NFL, he totaled 79 sacks [unofficially, the sack became an official statistic in 1982], he had seasons of 14.5, 14, 12 and 11.5 sacks despite playing in the era of 14 game seasons and offenses that were run dominant, he also tallied 2 interceptions and 3 safeties. I hope that his family, friends, former teammates, and football fans will finally get to see one of the true giants of the game and one of the game’s greatest interior linemen finally receive his final and ultimate honor.

Sources cited:

https://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/B/BrowRo03.htm

https://www.profootballresearchers.org/hall-of-very-good-2007.html

https://www.detroitlions.com/news/lions-legend-roger-brown-passes-away-at-age-84

https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/ex-nfl-linemen-discover-that-weighing-300-pounds-or-more-is-no-asset-in-life-after-football/2014/05/28/032d5f04-e5ba-11e3-afc6-a1dd9407abcf_story.html

https://santamariatimes.com/sports/professional/college-football-hall-of-fame-dt-roger-brown-dies-at-84/article_a6aaac82-c40b-5710-85b7-00f2f66d903c.html

https://www.pilotonline.com/sports/national-sports/vp-sp-roger-brown-20200619-s3g6fzyknvh2fc4otpode23a4a-story.html

Zach Thomas: The case for the Hall of Fame

Credit: The Phinsider

Every August, we see posts explaining why Thomas should be in the Hall, and then the chatter ends. Then, the next year’s finalists are announced and everyone makes their case for Thomas again.

The same thing happens every year; but, hopefully, that changes next year.

HOF Endorsements

On Saturday night, now Hall of Fame coach Jimmy Johnson made sure to let everyone know his thoughts on Thomas. Johnson said “Zach Thomas belongs up here” as he talked about his defense that led the Miami league.

Jimmy Johnson is now the 2nd Hall of Fame inductee to emphasize that Zach Thomas needs to be in the HOF. In 2019, former New York Jets OL, Kevin Mawae said Zach Thomas should be in the HOF.

The Numbers

Thomas was drafted in 1996 and spent 12 seasons with the Dolphins, before spending his last season with the Cowboys. He retired after his 13th season.

Thomas intercepted 17 passes and returned 4 of them for touchdowns. He also forced 16 fumbles. Although the turnover numbers aren’t eye-grabbing, offenses could never be too cautious with the ball around Thomas. With 33 forced turnovers, he is tied with LB Brian Urlacher, who has been in the HOF for 3 years. 

Thomas racked up 1,100 solo tackles and 627 assists through his 13-year career. For comparison, Urlacher and Junior Seau had less tackles. Both are in the Hall of Fame. As a matter of fact, he led the Miami Dolphins in tackles 10 out of his 12 seasons in South Florida. The tackling machine ranks 5th all-time on the tackling list.

It is crucial to note that all 4 players ahead of Thomas on that list played significantly more games than Thomas.

Zach Thomas also had 5 first team all-pro selections and 2 second team all-pro selections. Additionally, he was voted into 7 Pro Bowls.

Clearly, Zach Thomas has the stats to be in the Hall of Fame. From tackles to forcing turnovers, Thomas wreaked havoc wherever he was on the field. 

Leadership

Aside from the numbers, Thomas was a hell of a leader and football mind. He took blame for every Dolphins loss. Thomas was often the first one in the facility and the last one out. During Kevin Mawae’s enshrinement speech, he said Thomas was “one of the smartest, if not the smartest” defender he had ever faced.

On Sunday, Peyton Manning was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Most people consider Manning a top-3 QB of all-time. Whenever Peyton Manning discusses players who posed the greatest challenge, he always mentioned Zach Thomas

According to Manning, Thomas was able to call out the Colts offensive plays.

He was the quarterback of the Miami defense for 12 years, and caused opposing quarterbacks and offensive coordinators to lose sleep.

Why Zach Thomas isn’t in the HOF yet is, quite literally, unanswerable. He started all but 2 games in his career and has the numbers to compete with other HOF LBs. Thomas averaged almost 10 tackles per game, and was one of the smartest LBs to play the game. He’s been endorsed by two Hall of Famers during their enshrinement speeches and called on of the greats by Peyton Manning.

The difference for Thomas may be that the Dolphins didn’t have real success as a team during his time in Miami. Whatever the reason may be, we won’t ever know. However, at this point, it’s laughable that Zach Thomas doesn’t have his own gold jacket. 

Thomas has been a finalist two years in a row now. He is bound to get in at some point, right? Dolphins Fans all over the world(literally) will have to wait and see if Thomas is on the stage unveiling his bust next August.

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Cam to Canton?

Courtesy of Miami Dolphins

While a lot may be said about Jeff Ireland’s capabilities as a general manager, he did provide the Miami Dolphins with one of their greatest ever players, Cameron Wake.

Throughout his career in the NFL, Wake amounted 364 tackles, 100.5 sacks, 99 TFL, 22 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries and 1 interception. Palm Beach Post has since ranked Wake as the third greatest Dolphins player over the past 20 years behind only Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas. With JT already in the Hall of Fame, and Zach Thomas a finalist this year before being snubbed again, is Cameron Wake Hall of Fame worthy?

Early Career

Derek Cameron Wake from Beltsville, Maryland, played his college ball for Penn State after enrolling in 2000. The 6-3, 236-pound linebacker/defensive end had a productive college career amounting 191 tackles, including 24 tackles for loss with 8.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 2 recoveries and an interception. Wake was also the team’s top special team player after blocking seven kicks during his career with the Nittany Lions.

Prior to the 2005 NFL Draft, at Penn State’s Pro Day Wake ran a 4.55 40-yard dash. In comparison, rookie defensive end Jaelan Phillips ran a 4.56. It is therefore very surprising looking back, as to how on earth Wake went undrafted. While he may not have been as dominant in college as what he was in the NFL, the fact that Wake was repeatedly passed on by so many is puzzling to say the least.

Having gone undrafted, Wake thought he had his shot when he was picked up by the New York Giants in 2005, however he was subsequently cut before the regular season began. Just imagine a defense featuring both Wake and Jason Pierre-Paul is frightening.

With his hopes and dreams of becoming an NFL star in tatters, Wake eventually took a job as a mortgage broker in 2006, watching his peers compete in the NFL with vengeance. Had it not been for his mother’s determination to see her son’s dream a reality, encouraging him to quit his job and focus all of his efforts on the NFL, his career would have been very different.

Having quit his short career as a mortgage broker, he eventually got his shot in the Canadian Football League with British Columbia, yet Wake remained skeptical.

“I had never even watched a CFL game in my life. I’d never heard of a team. I didn’t know a single person in Canada. I was completely oblivious to the whole league.”

Cameron Wake speaking to ESPN in 2013

While Wake only earned $48,000 per season playing for BC, his production levels were off the charts. In 36 games Wake totaled: 137 total tackles, 39 sacks (season high of 23 in 2008) , 6 forced fumbles, 3 recoveries and 1 TD. In his two seasons in the CFL he was twice named a CFL All-Star, and twice named the “Most Outstanding Defensive Player”, eventually being named to the CFL all decade team. Teams were certainly interested now. As such, he managed to transform his fortunes from $48,000 salary to career earnings of over $60,000,000.

Miami Dolphins

After every team had passed on Wake during the 2005 draft, they were not about to do it again. Following his stint in the CFL, Wake now attracted interest from over 17 NFL teams and working out for 8. Not everybody in the Dolphins organisation was sold on the prospect of giving Wake the 4 year contract worth $2.6 million with $650,000 guaranteed, as he was unproven in the league aged 27. Nevertheless, it was Bill Parcels who ultimately was the calming figure in the Dolphins front office imploring Jeff Ireland to take the gamble and to get the deal done. The rest is history.

To make it easier you:

NFL Honors:

  • First Team All Pro Honors- 2012
  • 3x Second Team All Pro Honors- 2010, 2014, 2016
  • 5x Pro Bowler- 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016
  • PFF’s 2010s All Decade Team (2nd)
  • 100 Sacks Club
  • 6x NFL Top 100

Dolphins Honors:

  • Miami Dolphins 50th Anniversary All-Time Team
  • Second highest sacks in Miami Dolphins history
  • 4x Don Shula Leadership Award- 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017
  • Dan Marino Most Valuable Player – 2013

Wake burst on to the scene in his first start of his NFL career against the Bills in 2009, he recorded two sacks, four TFL and a forced fumble. He had arrived in the NFL with a chip on his shoulder, determined to make up for lost time. His explosiveness and killer first step caused even the best of offensive tackles nightmares week in week out. From 2009-2018 Wake totaled a franchise leading 604 pressures. Furthermore, in the period from 2010- 2016, Wake earned a top 5 pass rushing grade among edge rushers every season bar one (2011), while leading the NFL in 2014 and 2015.

With the introduction of Ndamukong Suh on the defensive line in 2015, Wake began to exploit every opportunity that fell his way, with Suh’s power demanding doubling. Unfortunately however, Wake’s season was cut short after tearing his achilles in late October; prior to his injury he was the most dominant defensive player in the league. Having overcame adversity throughout his whole career, in typical Wake fashion he came back stronger than ever in 2016 collecting 11.5 sacks, earning Pro-Bowl and Second Team All-Pro honors while only starting 11 out of 16 games. The following season he added another 10.5 sacks and 12 TFL. In total Wake recorded double digit sacks in 5 of his 11 seasons. He averaged 9.8 sacks per season, in comparison Taylor averaged 9.3. In other words, he dominated.

With the dawn of a new era in Miami, it was clear once again that the Dolphins were in rebuild mode, needing to get younger and cheaper, thinking more about the long term vision, rather than attempts to plaster over the cracks like they had done for so many years. Wake then signed for the Tennessee Titans in 2019. In the season following his departure his value could not have been any clearer, the Dolphins pass rush was none existent with Taco Charlton leading the way in sacks. Wake is dearly missed among Dolphins fans.

Hall of Fame Worthy?

According to Armando Salguero, a selector on the Hall of Fame committee, ” A Pro Football Hall of Famer answers three basic questions in the affirmative.

  1. Did he dominate his era?
  2. Did he do anything to change games and more importantly to change the game?
  3. Do the greatest of his peers think he’s a Hall of Famer?

With regards to the first question, if you have made it this far in this article, the answer is clear. It is somewhat intriguing to just pause for a moment and consider what Wakes numbers would have been had he been drafted in 2005. Again it is important to highlight that Wake was 27 when he entered the league, what followed in his career is nothing short of remarkable.

As to the second question, I will just leave this here:

The infamous play that has highlighted Wake’s career. Wakes presence was always felt throughout games and certainly helped to change the games. It is no coincidence that his comeback season in 2016 also marked the Dolphins first post-season appearance since 2008. Nevertheless, the biggest hindrance on Wake’s chances of being enshrined in Ohio is that unfortunately for him and the fans, he played on a team that was never any good, with a defense that wasn’t very good either.

Wake has more career sacks than Hall of Famers Andre Tippett, Howie Long and Warren Sapp and more forced fumbles than Ray Lewis, yet no rings to show for it. Where Wake was an elite edge rusher in the league he played on a team that was bang average at best, never looking like a legitimate contender. Wake did as much as he could to provide a spark within the Dolphins organisation and although it should not be held against him, it might.

Finally in regard to the third question:

“I’ve been around a long time, and he does things that amaze me. It’s those young fresh legs, good cartilage in his knees. I always joke watching tape, seeing Cameron dip underneath somebody, kind of getting pushed around, then he’ll spin around and pop off the ground. He easily does things that older guys can’t do anymore.”

Jason Taylor speaking about Wake in 2011.

“He’s an animal hes a freak of nature. The guy is 36 years old and he’s playing like he’s 22.”

Reshad Jones speaking about Wake in Top 100 in 2018

“Wake has got this move that he’ll bull you and then pull you by and then get the edge, as much as anybody tries to replicate that move, nobody does it like him. For me he’s the most complete 4-3 defensive end in the game right now.”

DE Chris Long speaking about Wake in Top 100 in 2015

Cameron Wake is worthy of being enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The story of his career is an extraordinary one. Through all the challenges and setbacks he had, he is the prime example of never giving up. Wake dominated in the league for over a decade and brought a bright spark to an otherwise dull and grey era in Miami. While he may not be a first or even a second ballot, at some point in the future Wake has earned his place in Canton when he becomes eligible 5 years after his retirement. But first we focus on No.54. In the near future though, I fully expect Wake to be placed in the Dolphins ring of honor at the very least. Who knows what the future holds for Wake and his retirement plans, one thing is for sure, his future as a Miami Dolphins legend is set in stone. Fins Up!

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