Die hard sports fans are obsessed with statistics, especially the numbers associated with the all time greats. Records are made to be broken, but some records will never be broken due to fundamental changes in the sport, such as rule changes and coaching philosophies.
Baseball has their untouchables. Cal Ripken's consecutive games played streak will never be challenged. Cy Young's and Nolan Ryan's numbers will never be matched due to changes in player usage.
It is hard to imagine anybody breaking Wilt Chamberlain's untouchable record of scoring 100 points in a single game in today's NBA. Wilt set the mark playing against a group of individuals that looked like they should have been playing in the local church league, not the NBA. Wilt's greatest opponent during his career was a undersized power forward playing center for the Boston Celtics who just so happened to be the greatest defender in NBA history. Would Wilt have been capable of duplicating his feat against men with names like Ewing, Akeem, Shaq, Robinson, or Jabbar? I would have to say highly doubtful.
I honestly have to blame ESPN and Peyton Manning for this article. During one of the countless commercials assaulting my senses in hopes of influencing me to subscribe to the ESPN+ channel I witnessed a upcoming interview series hosting by Peyton Manning. In one snippet, Peyton is conducting an interview with none other than living legend and former Cleveland Browns great Jim Brown. The one comment I could make out as I was changing the channel was Brown saying, "A warrior doesn't run out of bounds!" He has made that statement many times before. Any Steelers fans around in 1983 remembers that all to well.
Jim Brown retired in 1966, at the height of his powers and still in his prime. He had already proven to be one of the greatest athletes the world had ever seen. He excelled in any sport he decided to compete in. Many boxing experts surmised Brown could have even been heavyweight champion of the world if he would have focused on boxing. He retired as the all time leading rusher in NFL history due to some contractual disagreements, a desire to focus on his acting career, and partly due to the fact he had nothing left to prove.
He rushing record remained unbroken and unchallenged until it suddenly appeared vulnerable going into the 1983 season. Brown didn't like the idea of someone breaking his record, especially a player he didn't feel was worthy of the honor. The player that was drawing the ire of Mr. Brown was none other than Pittsburgh Steelers RB Franco Harris, a player who was the polar opposite of Brown in everyway.
Brown's game was predicated on speed and power. Franco's running style relied on impeccable vision and balance. Jim Brown's persona was all intimidation and machismo, the model male that other men wanted to emulate and many women wanted to get to know. Franco was a easy going people person who was as cool as the underside of your pillow. These two gentlemen were never destined to be fast friends.
There was one thing about Franco's game that absolutely drove Brown crazy. Franco was the focal point of the Steelers offense, and the epitome of a workhorse running back. Therefore Franco tried to carry the rock intelligently and limit his unavoidable pounding. He would take the handoff, follow his blockers to perfection out wide on a sweep play as the defense funneled him toward the sideline, and right before contact he would continue right on out of bounds. He avoided the contact, the punishment, and he would live to see another play. This running style didn't sit well with Jim Brown.
Brown believed in punishing the would be tacklers. He tried to freight train any defender brave enough to get in his way. He couldn't fathom the idea that a player like Franco Harris might break his record. Brown threatened to come out of retirement to prevent Harris from passing him. He would later challenge a still humble Harris to a 40 yard dash contest to prove he was still the better athlete. It only made Brown appear petty and bitter, and showcased Harris as the better man. If Brown would have been honest with himself, he would have realized that they played under very different circumstances.
The truth is Brown was absolutely huge for the running back position during the era in which he played. He was one of the biggest, strongest, and fastest players on the field in every game he competed in. He was actually larger than some of his offensive linemen. Before Chuck Noll became the four time winning Super Bowl coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, he was a offensive lineman for the Cleveland Browns, among others. He blocked for Jim Brown during his playing career. Jim Brown was a substantially larger man than Chuck Noll.
Franco Harris was never afforded this luxury during his playing career. He was a banger who had to grind out each yard he gained. He flowed through the defense like a current of water looking for the path of least resistance. He was never the biggest or strongest, but that never stopped him from being one of the all time greats.
It's a real shame that Brown has never been able to show Harris the same respect that Harris has always bestowed toward him. But that is consistent with Franco Harris the man, a individual who is all class, on and off the field. Many considered Jim Brown to be the ultimate male, but I believe he could have learned some lessons from Franco Harris on how to be a better man.