EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of an occasional series on the history of the Raiders.
Hall of Fame cornerback Willie Brown’s list of accomplishments could fill a full page.
It might take an entire book to explain his impact on a Raiders organization that he was a part of in some capacity for almost 50 years.
“No. 1, he was one of the greatest players ever in the National Football League,” Raiders owner Mark Davis said. “But better yet, as a person, he was a special, special guy.”
Brown, who died in October at age 78, was traded to the Raiders in 1967 after spending his first four seasons with the Denver Broncos.
He quickly found a home in Oakland.
Brown left his mark on the franchise record books in his 12 seasons playing for the Raiders.
His 39 interceptions are tied with Lester Hayes for the most in Raiders history, and his 75-yard interception return for a touchdown in Super Bowl XI provided an iconic highlight for NFL Films. It also stood as the longest in the game’s history until Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison went 100 yards in Super Bowl XLIII.
Brown had 54 career interceptions in the regular season and seven more in 17 postseason appearances.
The Mississippi native was part of three Raiders’ Super Bowl titles, once as a player and twice as defensive backs coach. He played in the Pro Bowl every season from 1970 to 1973 and was twice named a first-team All-Pro while picking up a second-team nod twice.
He also was part of the American Football League championship team in 1967 and was a five-time AFL All-Star.
Brown was named to the AFL all-time team and the NFL 100th anniversary team.
Somehow, however, his biggest contributions to the organization came off the field.
Brown was an assistant coach with the Raiders from 1979 until 1988 before leaving for brief stops as the head coach at Long Beach State and then Jordan High School in Los Angeles.
He returned to the Raiders to serve as the director of staff development in 1995 and remained in the role until his death.
It’s almost impossible to find anyone who has crossed paths with Brown who will utter a negative word about him, starting with the Davis family.
“He was my mom’s best friend,” Davis said. “When traveling, my mom was having trouble getting up and down the stairs of the planes. Willie would always stay with her and help her up and down. On the road, whenever we’d have dinner on a Friday or Saturday night, Willie would be with my mom and I having dinner.
“He was a special man and a great, great Raider.”
Brown went undrafted out of Grambling in 1963 but got a tryout with the Houston Oilers. He signed with the Broncos after Houston waived him and was a starter by midseason.
“A big part of his legacy is that Willie Brown started in the old AFL,” Davis said. “It was a different time. That league had a lot to do with social justice and social integration. When you talk about guys from the AFL, there’s a real big story there. He went to Grambling when there weren’t a whole lot of players coming out of Grambling. The small black schools being opened up to the professional game was all through the AFL. Willie is a big part of it.”
Brown was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1984.