During the long ago late summer of 1978, the great Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown gave an interview to The Dayton Daily News suggesting he could continue to play in the National Football League even though he had been retired for more than a dozen years.
“I can perform right now,” the athlete turned actor and activist said.
“I’m still in the kind of condition where I can do that. I am mentally strong, I’m fast, I’m quick. If you want to talk about a record, all I have to do is get a contract and come back. I can gain 10 yards.”
He was 43 when he said that during a telephone conversation meant to inquire what it was like being a retired athlete.
The original subject was a series labeled After the Band Stops Playing, featuring athletes such as Brown — who was barely 30 when he stopped playing — as well as athletes who had extended Hall of Fame careers such as Oscar Robertson and Pee Wee Reese, guys who excelled in high school or college but not in the pros, and players who could not continue due to injury.
At first, Brown was not interested in the subject, but extended the conversation. He had played nine years in the NFL ending in 1965, accumulating a record 12,312 rushing yards when running backs were the NFL stars, and now it appeared O.J. Simpson might pass him.
That didn’t happen, and in the years since, only 10 other players — led by Emmitt Smith — have passed Brown, who died Friday at the age of 87.
Many argue Brown could have continued at the top level of play, but a fallout with management over his taking extra time to make a movie away from training camp ended his playing career.
He continues to be in the discussion about the best running backs of all time.
In 1978, he didn’t think his decision to leave the Browns was such a wrong move to make, especially with so many of his contemporaries trying to extend their careers too far.
“Whenever I see that player, deep down in my heart, I don’t think he can pull it through and I don’t like that feeling,” he said. “I didn’t enjoy watching (the New York Jets’) Joe Namath with the Rams. He’s a dignified guy. To see Joe under circumstances like that ... I didn’t want to see him under those circumstances.
“I retired because I wanted to and because I was smart enough to understand timing. You have to get quit at a certain time to maintain dignity. I never look back and miss anything.
“To me, if you go into something, there’s a start, and there’s a finish. You should try to start out right and bring it up to a level when you finish, you’ve completed a job. I felt after nine years, I had completed my job, and my job was over.”
He wasn’t serious about playing again, only insisting he could have if approached.
The band never did restart in football for Brown, but when it played for him, it struck the highest notes. Now, he is gone, but the band plays on.
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