By Mike Klingaman, The Baltimore Sun
2:44 PM EST, December 12, 2013
That one of the largest pro football players of his era now owns three restaurants isn't surprising. But how did Roger Brown shed 50 pounds doing it?
"My goal now is to sell the food, not eat it," said Brown, 76, who played at Maryland State before starring with the Detroit Lions and Los Angeles Rams in the 1960s.
A restaurant/sports bar in Portsmouth, Va., where he lives bears his name. Brown, a onetime 300-pound All Pro defensive tackle, also owns establishments in Williamsburg and Newport News. On the menu is a club sandwich called the "Fearsome Foursome," a nod to the nickname given the celebrated defensive lines on which Brown played in both Detroit and L.A.
Clearly, he has thrived since his arrival in 1956 at Maryland State (now UMES), a tiny black college in Princess Anne where players shared helmets and bought their own football shoes, if their feet were as big as Brown's size 14s. One coach called him "Rhino foot."
The team had a skeletal budget and offered few perks, but Brown, who grew up in Nyack, N.Y., embraced the setting.
"That school was so small that you could yell from one side of campus to the other and tell somebody to come on over," Brown said. "We had maybe 250 students, but we could play football."
Between 1958 and 1980, when UMES dropped its football program, the Hawks sent 24 players to the pros, including Art Shell, a Hall of Fame tackle for the Oakland Raiders, and former Baltimore Colts Charlie Stukes, Jim Duncan, Johnny Sample and Sherman Plunkett.
Brown flourished there, earning Black College All America honors and helping Maryland State to a 24-5-1 record and a Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association championship. Agile and quick for one 6 feet 5, he also learned techniques that would help in the pros.
"Remember the head slap?" Brown said of the defensive ploy since outlawed by the NFL. "In college, we'd tape flip-flops [shower shoes] to our hands and whap guys during games. One of our assistants, Earl Banks [later Morgan State's head coach] always said, 'If you can get a lineman's head going one way, his body has to follow or else his head is coming off.'
"If that move had been illegal back then, I'd still be paying the NFL in fines."
The head slap served Brown well in games against the Colts when he squared off against Jim Parker, Baltimore's Hall of Fame tackle and guard.
"Jim's blocking style was unique. He was kind of a boxer," Brown said. "Go to his right and he'd punch your ribs. So I'd hit him in the head, which ticked him off. By game's end, he always had some blood dripping out of his helmet and onto his nose.
"He [Parker] was one tough cookie. After we played the Colts, I made sure I had Epsom salts to put in the bathtub to soak my body."
Detroit's fourth-round draft pick in 1960, Brown played some of his best games at Memorial Stadium. As a rookie, he stripped the ball from Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas and recovered the fumble in a 20-15 Lions victory. Two years later, Brown tackled Unitas in the end zone for a safety in a 29-20 win. And in 1966, he blocked a Colts field-goal attempt as Detroit triumphed, 20-14.
"Having gone to school in Maryland, I knew I had to have a good game back home," he said. "I'd bought a lot of tickets for relatives and schoolmates, and I wanted the game to say, 'I'm here.'"
His best day? In a 26-14 victory over soon-to-be NFL champion Green Bay in 1962, Brown sacked Packers quarterback Bart Starr seven times and also nailed him for a safety.
In Detroit, he teamed with Alex Karras, Sam Williams and Darris McCord to form a defensive front that the media dubbed the Fearsome Foursome. Acquired by Los Angeles in 1967, he replaced the retired Rosey Grier on a unit with the same name and played alongside Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen and Lamar Lundy.
Six times in his 10-year career, Brown made the Pro Bowl. Though inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2009, he remains outside the gates in Canton, Ohio.
"I don't like to stick my chest out, but I don't see why I'm not a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame," he said. "I look at those being elected today and their records don't exceed mine."
So he waits. What's the rush?
"I'm still vertical," said Brown, who is married with nine children, 14 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. "I still work. I mow my own lawn. I say a prayer every day and try to keep anyone or anything from sneaking up on me."
An old pass rusher wouldn't let that happen.
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