The mark of an all-time player in the NFL is dominance during his era. Jim Brown was dominant in his era, certainly, but given what he displayed in nine professional seasons, it’s clear that he would have been dominant in any era.
That is why Brown was announced Thursday night as the first member — unanimously selected — of the NFL All-Time Team, which will eventually reveal the 100 greatest players and 10 greatest coaches in the league’s 100-year history.
Brown was an outstanding all-around athlete at Syracuse University. He was an All-American in football and lacrosse, was one of the basketball team’s top scorers and once finished fifth in the college decathlon.
Once he got to the NFL, the combination of balance, power and speed that had been deployed in those other sports was concentrated on football, where Brown is still considered by many to be the greatest player ever. Fifty-four years after his last game, Brown is still the only running back in NFL history who averaged 100 yards per game for his career and he is still the only player to lead the league in rushing eight times. In his ninth game as a rookie, he set an NFL single-game rushing record of 237 yards that stood for 10 seasons, and he came away from that season with his first of three league Most Valuable Player awards. The next year, he shattered the single-season rushing record, gaining 1,527 yards in a 12-game season — and rushed for 17 touchdowns in the process.
When he retired after nine seasons, Brown owned the single-season and career rushing records, and he was the all-time leader in rushing touchdowns (106), total touchdowns (126) and all-purpose yards (15,549). Ninety-nine other players will join Brown on the all-time team, but none of them may loom as large in NFL history as Brown does.