You sometimes stumble across the greatest stories on the internet.
So it happened over the weekend with The Big Lead’s more than interesting interview with former Packers great and Hall of Famer Willie Davis, a defensive end who started his career with the Browns as an offensive tackle before he was traded to Green Bay by Paul Brown.
An aside on Davis: When the Browns returned in 1999, the Akron Beacon-Journal ran a 100-day countdown to opening day, with a story per day on the Browns history. One I wanted to do was on Davis. I had always heard my uncle and father say that Davis would have been a great Brown, and Paul Brown traded him to the Packers as a favor so he could play because the Browns had tackles named Lou Groza and Mike McCormack.
I left a message for Davis, and wondered if he’d call back. He did within an hour or two, and started by saying: “When I heard it was about the Browns, I wanted to be sure to talk to you.” That’s how important his time was with Cleveland. And perhaps it’s why the induction of Akron resident Dave Robinson into the Hall of Fame hit right. Those Packers and Browns teams were so similar. Tough run games. Great coaches. Smart quarterbacks. Played with class.
Alas, we digress.
In the Big Lead interview, Davis talks about a new book he has just written called Closing the Gap. It sounds like a fascinating book about Davis’ life, starting as a youth in the segregated South to his days with the Browns and Packers and his life after football.
There is a famous NFL Films video of a Jim Brown touchdown run where he backpedals the last few yards into the end zone, and it was very atypical of Brown, who always seemed to score and simply toss the ball to ref. Davis reveals why in the interview, saying that Groza was injured in the game, so Brown told Davis to go in. “My first thought at that moment was to panic,” he said. He wound up shuttling the plays, part of Paul Brown’s messenger system.
Davis describes how Jim Brown told him to tell the coach to run a particular play called Flip to the Flex, and Davis – being young and naïve — told Paul Brown.
“With that, it’s like I had committed the ultimate mistake,” Davis said. “(Paul Brown) had to tell me who was the coach, and who was calling the plays. In the meantime, I am in the process of shuttling the plays in. Jim asked if I told him, I said ‘yeah, he just didn’t want to deal with it.’ Jim came out with a few expletives. We go back in, and we run a couple of other plays.”
Finally, Brown called the play, and Brown scored what Davis said was about a 40-yard touchdown. The last 10 yards he backpedaled – because he was looking at Davis and saying, “I told you, I told you.”
“It was so interesting, going back to Coach Brown,” Davis said. “His comment to me was, ‘Hey, you tell him we’ll call the play, we know when it’s ready.’ … I was glad that was the last confrontation where I was in between Paul Brown and Jim Brown.”
That was one of 17 touchdowns Brown scored in a 14-game season, by the way.
The rest of the interview is in-depth, and just as fascinating. It’s well worth a read.