Tim Brown is the epitome of how a winner can’t necessarily be defined by his team’s record on the field. The Silver Anniversary honor he received this weekend from the NCAA verifies it.
After winning the Heisman Trophy in 1987 at Notre Dame, Tim Brown had a distinguished NFL career and with his charity organizations.
The Silver Anniversary Award honors former student-athletes and distinguished individuals are recognized on the 25th anniversary of the conclusion of their college athletics careers. Brown and fellow recipients Doris Burke, Kevin Johnson, Sean Payton, Amy Perko and David Robinson were honored on Friday night during the NCAA Convention in Indianapolis.
Brown serves as the national chairman and spokesperson for Athletes and Entertainers for Kids and 9-1-1 For Kids. Each year, Brown hosts the Tim Brown Charity Golf Classic to benefit 9-1-1 For Kids, and the Mentor Mini Camp at the Raiders’ headquarters for fatherless boys.
Seldom in nearly 25 years of football was Tim Brown part of a winning organization. Yet in an ironic twist of fate, that’s how he became such a winner on and off the field.
It goes back to his days as a varsity member of Woodrow Wilson High in Dallas, Texas from 1981-83. During Brown’s career, Wilson was 4-25-1, winning one game in his sophomore campaign, two as a junior and one as a senior.
“The lack of success by our high school team helped me in a way because it made me play harder than ever each week,” Brown said. “I figured that if I wanted to get a college scholarship I would have to make each play count and take nothing for granted.
“Every time I touched the ball I said to myself I’d better do something good with it or I’d never make it anywhere.”
Although overlooked by many high school blue-chip publications, the diamond in the rough received enough notice to take official visits as a senior to Notre Dame, Iowa, SMU, Oklahoma and Nebraska, and the decision came down to SMU — located only two miles from his home — or Gerry Faust’s Irish.
Confronted with immense pressure to stay in state with a renegade program that was handed the NCAA death penalty in the 1980s, Brown, with some inspiration from his family, opted for the Fighting Irish. Four years later after accepting the Heisman Trophy as the nation’s premier college player, Brown was asked whether Notre Dame’s name was what helped him receive the award.
“I’m not going to apologize for going to Notre Dame,” Brown replied. “I did it to better myself as a person.”
That mission was more than fulfilled as an athlete, an entrepreneur, an NFL analyst husband, father and spiritually.
In 1995, Brown became the National Chairman of Athletes & Entertainers for Kids and 911 for Kids, and his service to others has earned him just as much respect as his nine Pro Bowl appearances with the Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders.
“I was fortunate to grow up in a wonderful, supportive and loving family,” Brown said. “I realized early on that many children are not as fortunate and just finding a meal is a daily fight for thousands of youth.”
Often characterized as the “anti-Raider” for his clean-cut background, Brown still was confident and brash enough to clash with the late mercurial Raiders owner Al Davis, or even tell a deeply religious teammate that it was fine to read the Bible — but he better start reading the playbook, too.
As a Notre Dame freshman, Brown was the first player to handle the ball to open the 1984 campaign against Purdue, and it resulted in a fumbled kickoff return that the Boilermakers recovered and turned into a score in their 23-21 upset victory. How’s that for a grand entry?
Several weeks later, the Irish lost their third straight at home (for the first time since 1956) and were booed as they walked off their home turf with a 3-4 record.
“Most guys here came from state champion teams and were always used to winning. They were really down, but I’d think, ‘Oh man, what’s wrong? We’ve already won three games,’ ” laughed Brown.
In Brown’s four seasons, the Irish were only 25-21, including 0-2 in two bowl appearances. He was part of the lone back-to-back losing seasons at the school in 1985 with Faust (5-6) and 1986 with Lou Holtz (5-6).
When Holtz arrived, the new Irish head coach vowed “the only way we’re going to keep the ball out of Tim Brown’s hands is if they intercept the snap from center.”
Utilizing Brown in the backfield, at wideout and as both a kick and punt returner, Holtz maximized Brown’s skills and saw him produce, to this day, the two most all-purpose yards gained in a season at Notre Dame – first with 1,937 (1986) and then 1,847 (1987).
Brown made Fighting Irish football hip again, and his brilliance in 1986-87 helped attract premier recruits such as Raghib “Rocket” Ismail, Ricky Watters, Todd Lyght, Chris Zorich, and a plethora of others, into the fold during Holtz’s halcyon years from 1988-93, when the Irish were 64-9-1 with one national title and two debatable No. 2 finishes.
Brown’s senior year did see the Irish produce their best record (8-4) in seven years, but even then, the Irish closed with consecutive losses to Penn State (21-20), national champ Miami (24-0) and Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl.
Even in the NFL, the No. 6 pick of the 1988 draft experienced only five playoff wins. From 1991 through 2000, the once-proud Raiders organization had merely one playoff victory and didn’t even advance to postseason action in seven of those 10 seasons. Brown best individual campaign came in 1997 (104 catches, 1,408 yards) — a year the Raiders finished 4-12 before hiring a new coach, Jon Gruden.
The football timing never seemed to be quite right for Brown. The year after he graduated from Notre Dame, the Irish won the national title. The year after Gruden departed Oakland, he led Tampa Bay to the Super Bowl title with a 48-21 victory versus Brown’s Raiders.
Yet when Brown joined Gruden at Tampa Bay in 2004 for his final NFL season, the Bucs finished 5-11, - slightly better than the 4-12 mark of Brown’s final Raiders team the previous season.
The timing and circumstances weren’t quite right for Brown when it came to enjoying team success. Yet midst so many football defeats, Brown never lost his perspective.
Tim Brown By The Numbers
[4 Notre Dame players in both the College and Pro Football Hall of Fame: George Connor, Paul Hornung, Wayne Millner and Alan Page. Nobody has a better chance of becoming the fifth than Brown.
6 Touchdowns scored by Brown on kick returns (3) and punt returns (3) at Notre Dame, tying him with Raghib “Rocket” Ismail and Allen Rossum for most in a career. Brown also was the No. 6 pick in the 1988 NFL Draft, the highest ever by an Irish wideout.
9 Pro Bowl selections for Brown during his NFL career, tying him with Page for the most by an Irish alumnus. Tied for second place with eight apiece are quarterback Joe Montana and offensive tackle George Kunz.
14 Years between punt returns for a touchdown at Notre Dame. Tim Simon did it against Army in 1973 before Brown did it against Michigan State in 1987 with a 71-yard return. One series later, Brown did it again with a 66-yard TD return.
23 Years between Heisman Trophy winners at Notre Dame – from John Huarte (1964) to Brown (1987). That had been the longest drought at a school that has produced an NCAA record 7 (tied with USC). The current Irish drought now is now 24.
42.3 Average number of yards for Brown’s 22 touchdowns scored at Notre Dame from 1984-87. It included three on punt returns, three on kickoff returns, four rushing and 12 on receptions. Five others were called back.
14,934 Yards receiving Brown accumulated during a 17-year NFL before retiring after the 2004 season. Only Jerry Rice produced more yardage at receiver. Brown also finished third all-time in catches (1,094) and TD receptions (100).