For five years, he played football for the Green Bay Packers and Vince Lombardi, the quintessential tough coach. So how can Tom Brown now run a youth sports camp in Salisbury that's so relaxed the kids fill out the lineups, everyone gets to play and winning doesn't matter?
It makes sense to Brown, 72, a two-sport star at Maryland 50 years ago.
"Vince was a teacher first," he said. "He taught us about football and about life. He told us, in retirement, to find our niche. I looked it up in the dictionary and it said a niche is something you're good at and that you like doing.
"Well, I love to see 5-year-olds come here, learn the fundamentals and try to get better without it being life-or-death. And if parents go crazy when their kid just stands there in center field, holding the baseball, I quietly tell them to be patient. Kids learn."
For 38 years Brown has had their ear, in part because he has two Super Bowl rings and a resume to back him up. Green Bay's second-round draft pick in 1963, he initially spurned the Packers — then the NFL champions — to play baseball instead. An All-American at Maryland, where he led the Atlantic Coast Conference in hitting (.449), he was wooed by the Washington Senators who dangled a $12,000 bonus.
"Was it a tough choice? After the draft, Green Bay invited me to Yankee Stadium to see their championship game against the New York Giants. I took one look at the frozen field and the size of the players and said, 'I'm going to play baseball.' "
Opening Day 1963 found the rookie from Silver Spring perched on first base for Washington against the Orioles in Griffith Stadium. Just like that.
"Here's the story," Brown said. "The Senators had traded for a first baseman from Cuba, Rogelio Alvarez, but he got stuck down there after the Cuban missile crisis."
Then, on Brown's behalf, President John F. Kennedy intervened.
"When [Washington general manager] George Selkirk went to the White House to give the President his traditional Opening Day pass, Kennedy told him, 'I'll come to the game if you give that boy from Maryland a start.'
"I'm told he said it jokingly, but Selkirk got flustered, and I'd hit .321 in spring training, so I made the lineup."
Brown went 0-for-2 against the Orioles' Steve Barber, his teammate at Montgomery Blair High, in a 3-1 loss to the Birds. Hitless in his first 15 at-bats, he was minors-bound by mid-season, having hit one home run (against the Detroit Tigers' Phil Regan, later the Orioles' manager). Brown was out of baseball in a year. Football beckoned. A Packer, he would be.
By 1965, Brown's second year in Green Bay, he was a starting safety on the soon-to-be NFL champions. And in 1966, the Packers won the first of two straight Super Bowls.
"The gods were smiling on me," he said. "I love baseball, but if you're winning in pro football, it's the greatest job in the world. And Lombardi made sure that we won."
Brown, who'd set ACC records for receptions and interceptions at Maryland, played six years in the pros. He's best remembered for a game-ending interception in the end zone in Green Bay's 34-27 victory over Dallas in the 1966 NFL title game. Big deal, Brown said.
"[Cowboys quarterback] Don Meredith threw that ball while being tackled. It was a floater," he said. "My wife could have caught that one."
As memorable, he said, were the hard-fought games between the Packers and Colts, two celebrated teams of the mid-Sixties
"Lombardi really liked playing the Colts, especially in Memorial Stadium with that big-game atmosphere," Brown said. "We were two teams of equal ability, and he knew he didn't have to do anything to get us up for the game."
"To intercept a couple of passes by someone as great as him – I mean, what else is there?"Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun