The first in a series of profiles of lesser known Eagles greats.
After winning the NFL Championship in 1960, the Philadelphia Eagles fell on very hard times. From 1962 to 1977, the Eagles had only one winning season, going 73-142-9 during that span. Quite simply, they were an inept team. But they weren’t one devoid of talent. Hall of Famer Sonny Jurgensen started the era and Ron Jaworski ended it. Pete Retzlaff had some of the finest seasons of his career, and Bob Brown carved out half of a Hall of Fame career with the Birds, the team also had a number of All-Pros.
And they had Timmy Brown, one of the most versatile players in Eagles history, and of his era.
In 1959 Brown was drafted in the 27th round by the Packers and also by the NBA's Philadelphia Warriors. Brown chose football and after appearing in one game he was cut by the Packers, then picked up by the Eagles in 1960. He was a reserve player for the 1960 title winning team but did end the season with back to back 100-yard receiving games, good enough for fourth in receiving yards on the team that year. It was in 1961 he began to show his potential.
In every way a non-QB can touch the ball, Brown excelled at it from 1961-1965. He was the best kick returner of the early to mid-60s, leading the league in kick return yards in 1961 and 1963, 3rd in 1962 and 5th in 1964. He also split punt return duties, and led the league in all-purpose yards with record setting totals in 1962 and 1963, 3rd in 1965, 4th in 1961 and 1966 and 6th in 1964. In 1964 he missed four games due to injury, projecting him to a full season he would have easily lead the league. While he was an outstanding kick returner and respectable punt returner, it takes more than just special teams to break records in all-purpose yards.
Brown had very good seasons as a running back, in 1963 and 1965 Brown was 3rd in the league in rushing, in 1965 he lead the league with 5.4 yards per attempt. As a receiver he was one of the best out of the backfield, only from 1962-1965, Clem Daniels of the AFL Raiders was the only running back who had more receiving yards than Brown, by five in a league that was at the the time below the standards of the NFL. In the NFL, Brown was 2nd in yards from scrimmage in 1965 and 3rd in 1962 and 1963, the only players to out gain him were Hall of Famers Jim Brown, Jim Taylor and Bobby Mitchell. And he had a nose for the end zone, finishing top 10 in touchdowns in every year from 1962-1965. So versatile an athlete, he threw six passes in his career. Two were intercepted, but his lone completion was for a touchdown. He made the Pro Bowl in 1962, 1963 and 1965 and likely would have in 1964 had he not gotten hurt.
From 1962-1965, Timmy Brown was one of the best all-around players in the league. But he didn't just pile up yards, he had signature moments.
Some of Brown’s best games were ones where he nearly or did single-handedly won the game, and did so with his trademark versatility. In 1962 against the Redskins he scored as a runner, receiver and kick returner (for 99 yards) as the Eagles won 37-14. In 1964 the Eagles beat the Steelers 21-7, Brown had two receptions, a 23 and 87-yard touchdown and added 116 yards rushing on only 16 carries, his 226 yards from scrimmage was half of the Eagles 452 that day. In 1965 he had a similar performance, his 179 yards from scrimmage was half of the Eagles’ 358 in a 34-27 win over the Cardinals, and Brown scored half the teams’ touchdowns with both a rushing and receiving score.
And there were games where he had just as good of a performance but ended up on the losing end, as the Eagles often did. In 1962 against the Vikings, Brown had a 197 yards from scrimmage including a 174 receiving yards on 5 catches; his 80-yard touchdown reception closed the deficit to 24-21, the Eagles lost 31-21. Later that year against the Cardinals, Brown had 249 yards from scrimmage on 10 carries for 50 yards and 7 catches for 199 yards; he also returned four kicks for 92 yards. Two of those receptions were a 60 and 82-yard touchdown, the latter to take the lead in the 3rd quarter. But the Eagles gave up the lead and were unable to score again and lost 45-35. In 1965 he out-rushed Jim Brown, 186 yards (on 16 carries before being hurt in the third quarter) to 131 (on 20 carries) but the Eagles defense couldn’t stop the Browns passing attack and lost 38-34.
And he was part of the seminal moment of the Eagles-Cowboys rivalry.
Brown’s most memorable game was his record setting performance against the Cowboys in 1966. The Eagles offense gained only 80 yards that day, but managed to win entirely because of special teams. In the first quarter Brown returned a kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown, then in the second quarter returned another kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown. This made him the first player to ever return two kickoffs for touchdowns in the same game. A 67 yard punt return for a TD by Aaron Martin and a field goal by Sam Baker gave the Eagles the lead they would narrowly hold on to for a 24-23 win. Brown had three other kick returns that totaled 64 yards, giving him a then-record 247 kick return yards.
The next year, Brown claimed that he was told there was a bounty on his head for a Week 13 game in Dallas. The game was essentially meaningless, the Cowboys had already clinched the division and the Eagles were on their way to a losing record. With the Cowboys up 31-3, Dallas linebacker Lee Roy Jordan validated Brown's bounty claim, quite literally, by elbowing Brown in the face after the whistle had blown. Brown suffered a fractured jaw and lost several teeth. Jordan only got a penalty. And with that, a rivalry was born.
After a forgettable year as a backup with the Colts in 1968, Brown called an end to his football career and began a new one as an actor. Going by Timothy Brown as to not sound too similar to fellow running back-turned-actor Jim Brown, he appeared in both the movie and TV versions of M*A*S*H. In the film he had a small part as a medic, in the series he played neurosurgeon "Spearchucker" Jones (who in the film was played by another former NFLer, Fred Williamson, fitting with the novel where Jones was a star athlete in college and was transferred to the 4077 to help win an intramural football game) and appeared in six episodes in the first season of the series. Unfortunately for Brown the character was written off at least in part because producers discovered there were no black surgeons in the Korean War. Brown’s acting career never really took off, but he appeared in films and TV shows throughout the 70s and 80s.
Nearly 50 years after the end of his career, Brown is still on the Eagles career leader boards. He is 8th all-time in rushing yards and 7th in rushing touchdowns. He is 18th in receiving yards and 15th in receiving touchdowns. Throughout their history the Eagles have had plenty of dual-threat running backs, Steve van Buren, Wilbert Montgomery, Ricky Watters, Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy all have lead the league in yards from scrimmage and players like Herschel Walker and Duce Staley were a threat as a runner and receiver. Among running backs in Eagles history, Brown is 2nd in receiving touchdowns, 3rd in receiving yards and 5th in receptions. He was inducted into the Eagles Hall of Fame in 1990.
For five years, Timmy Brown was an electrifying player, one of the most versatile in the league. But because he played on bad teams half a century ago, he is largely forgotten. He had memorable games, memorable moments and played a part in launching a rivalry that has lasted 48 years and counting. He was one of the best I never saw.