May 31, 2012

An Interview With Jim Brown: Passion For The Game

by Corey McLaughlin | | Twitter

Jim Brown's love for the game of lacrosse seeped through the phone.

"It's like bringing me back alive," Brown said Thursday from New York while talking with Lacrosse Magazine about becoming part owner of Major League Lacrosse's Long Island Lizards.

Brown, the legendary Pro Football and National Lacrosse Hall of Famer, on Wednesday was officially announced as a member of the Lizards' new ownership group led by Medallion Financial Corp. The team's former owner, Scott Rosenzweig, passed away on Feb. 3.

The 76-year-old Brown, inducted into the Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1983, expressed enthusiasm about lacrosse in general, getting involved in the MLL, and reflected on his playing career at Syracuse and growing up learning the sport in Manhasset on Long Island's North Shore.

"We didn't play it for money, we played it because we loved the game," Brown said. "To now be involved [with lacrosse] and be dealing with a New York team, that's pretty good."

On Thursday, Brown flew in from California, where he lives, and met in New York with Andrew Murstein, the president of Medallion Corp., the team's majority owner. Brown was also scheduled to speak by phone with MLL commissioner Dave Gross. Brown will be at the Lizards' home game on Friday against the Ohio Machine an hour before its 7 p.m. faceoff to meet fans at Hofstra's Shuart Stadium.

We had the chance to talk with Brown, widely considered the greatest football player ever and one of lacrosse's all-time greats as well, for about 20 minutes Thursday. The conversation follows:

LM: Why get involved in the Lizards and how did this come about?

JB: For the last two or three years I've been talking to lacrosse groups across the country, particularly in Florida and on Wall Street about starting a youth league in Florida, and lacrosse has been growing. As you know, those of us who play the game, love it. We have our own little cult, have our own experiences. When I started getting involved, I got more and more interested and then this opportunity came along with the Lizards. I really liked it. I liked the fact that they are rebuilding. And the ownership is interested in diversity.

Andrew Murstein [the president of Medallion Financial] is quite an interesting young man. I met him through a person that used to hold the [Cleveland] Browns trust, Bill Futterer. When the Browns were no longer existing in Cleveland and being held in trust, Bill was the overseer of it. He exposed me to Andrew. Today is the first day that I've met Andrew, but I've talked with him over the phone. The way that he runs his company is amazing to me. Their interest in supporting minority businesses, and consciensouly doing that over the years is something that I've always espoused in America. I never thought I'd run into a company that actually did that, and consciensouly did it. With his interest in having a professional lacrosse presence in the New York area, that's a natural for me because I grew up on Long Island [Manhasset].

What about your time at Manhasset? Why did you start playing lacrosse?

I had a great experience. Ed Walsh, my coach. Dr. Collins, the superintendent of schools. Judge Kenny Molloy [a Syracuse alum who encouraged then-coach Roy Simmons, Sr. to take a look at Brown] ... I was a little boy. Those memoires are unbelievable. ... In junior high school, Jason Stranahan was the coach and he recruited us as boys. He gave us a stick and taught us the game. So I started in junior high. I went on to high school and really got interested. Sewanhaka was the big team at the time. They had all the good players and teams at the time. When I went to Syracuse, we had a lot of those Sewanhaka players on our team at Syracuse. So we ended up having an undefeated senior year [10-0 in 1957].

Jim Brown, shown here at the 2011 Tewaaraton Awards ceremony, is part of the Long Island Lizards new ownership group and will be at the Lizards' home game Friday to meet fans. The Pro Football and National Lacrosse Hall of Famer spoke about his passion for lacrosse on Thursday from New York.
© John Strohsacker/

You're going to the Lizards game Friday. Do you plan on being around the team a lot going forward?

I'm going to get around the team as much as I can, and I'll be a nuisance [laughs]. I'm not going to second-guess anybody, but I'm going to try to work with them as much as I can, because in the rebuilding stages, there are a lot of things you need to do. I have some really good lacrosse contacts that have dealt with the history of the game and know and love the game.

What's been your involvement in the sport been recently, or since Syracuse? I know you were at the Tewaaraton Awards last year.

That was quite nice [last year]. With the group in Florida and the group on Wall Street, we were thinking about starting a Jim Brown Lacrosse League for the kids in Florida. I would have participated and made my presence felt to really advocate for the sport. Now, I'm talking with the owners about their interest about promoting the game and exposing it to youngsters that maybe wouldn't have an opportunity. If we could start a winning tradition and a tradition of expanding the game to kids who wouldn't have the opportunity, those two things would be my aim.

Would you have played pro lacrosse if it were around in your day? When did you realize there was a pro league out there?

When I was around, there was nothing, so that was that. But lately I've become aware there is pro action. I'm not familiar with it enough to discuss it, but I will be soon. I'm very happy that's happening because over the years there have been a lot of outstanding players, you know. Think of the Gait brothers at Syracuse, they were legendary, and [people] always talk to me about these legendary lacrosse players to share war stories and so forth. I don't know what I would have played if I had an opportunity on an equal level to choose between football and lacrosse. It would have been a toss-up.

For people who didn't see you play, what was your position and what were you like as a player?

I was a midfielder and I did the facing-off. I'm right-handed, but I had a little lefty, righty. You had to practice and get a little lefty going. I had an underhand shot, which worked very well for me. I was bigger than most of the guys [laughs] so I had an advantage there. We had a great team. We had some great players. We had a great goalie, Oren Lyons, from the Onondaga Nation, and Roy Simmons, Jr., was my teammate and he went on to become of the great coaches. Roy Simmons, Sr., was our coach.

Do you watch any games on TV? How much do you follow the game?

I was trying to keep up with it as they were paring down [in the NCAA tournament]. I think Duke had a pretty good team. Notre Dame went to the final four, Loyola. I was kind of watching them pare it down. In other years, I was watching Syracuse getting ready to win it.

Do you have any family members that play lacrosse?

Nope, not at all. It's amazing. But I have some modern sticks that were given to me by the Syracuse players, so I have some up-to-date equipment, which is quite different than the stuff we used to use.

"It's like bringing me back alive. It's something I know, something I did, something I understand and something I love, and here I am involved with it again. That's pretty good."

- Jim Brown, Lacrosse Hall of Famer, new co-owner of MLL's Long Island Lizards

Today, more and more football players playing lacrosse and vice versa, or playing multiple sports. What skills carried over between the sports for you?

In college, the football players played lacrosse in the offseason. In fact, our defenses were made up of football players. Jim Ridlon was one of our real great players. He wasn't a great stick-handler, but he could run, he could check people, he could clear the ball. He was quite a player. That was a good game for the football team. A lot of guys went out for the team.

What do you expect on Friday at Hofstra?

I don't know what to expect. I guess I should expect something or nothing or whatever. I feel secure, because I was a legitimate player and I think one of the pioneers of the game. When I say pioneer, I only mean simply I played the game seriously when a lot of people didn't play it.

Those fans out there, if they are lacrosse lovers, then we're a family. That's no jive. We are a part of each other, because the only reason I played was because I loved the game. I didn't make a nickel playing lacrosse, couldn't make a nickel playing it, and we played it all the way through our senior year in college. We had an undefeated season, played for the love of the game, love of the coach, so I think I'll be in positive surroundings because we'll all be there for the same thing. It is a cult. It's a group of people that understand and enjoy the value of the game, the excitement of the game, the speed of the game, the skill of the game. Those things are all a part of lacrosse.

So, it seems from talking to you and hearing you talk at the Tewaaraton last year, you really love this sport?

I'll tell you what, the individuals in lacrosse are more vivid in my mind than football players because we were sort of like the lone rangers out there. We knew it was a great game, and it was new and we played it, and we played it well.

That stick was a challenge because you had to become a stick-handler. You couldn't fake that. But you could work on it as much as you wanted to where you could turn that stick upside down, hit that ball and pick it up. Some of the trickery that you can develop, it's like Tiger Woods bouncing the ball on his golf club. You can do certain things with the lacrosse stick and ball just by practicing. You're never at a loss for getting better. You can get better and better as a stick-handler.

Do you get back to Long Island often?

It's been about 3-4 years. It's been a while, but I'll be getting back quite a bit more now.

Will you be involved in any player decisions?

No, no. I was watching some highlights and there was one kid I saw on one of the college teams, quick as a flea. It's so funny because I'm going to track him down, find out who he is and, without imposing anything, see if we can get him.

What vision do you have for lacrosse in the future?

I see lacrosse as a true sport. I think soccer is good example of kids' involvement in a new sport. I think lacrosse is like that. Every kid can't play the normal sports and get the same opportunity, but I find that my two kids play soccer, and the other kids that play lacrosse, they're all happy. They don't have to play the big three [football, baseball, basketball]. It seems like the country is discovering it because it's supposed to be the fastest growing sport in America. That means it's catching on.

It's like bringing me back alive. It's something I know, something I did, something I understand and something I love, and here I am involved with it again. That's pretty good.

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