Raiders lose another member of their family as Willie Brown dies at age 78
Willie Brown, a Hall of Fame cornerback for the Raiders, has died at age 78.
Willie Brown, one of the legendary figures in Raiders history and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, has died, the club announced Tuesday.
The cause of death has not been released. Brown was 78 years old.
The Raiders issued the following statement:
“Willie Brown will forever be cherished as a true Raider. He exemplified the Raider spirit, originally entering the AFL as an undrafted free agent out of Grambling State before joining the Silver and Black in 1967. He remained an integral part of the organization through six decades. His legendary performance on the field changed the way the cornerback position was played and his valued guidance as a coach, mentor and administrator permeated the organization and touched countless individuals both on and off the field. Willie’s loss will leave a tremendous void, but his leadership and presence will always be a major part of the fabric of the Raiders Family.” TOP ARTICLES1/5READ MOREMap: Potential PG&E shutdown Wednesday
Brown was acquired by Raiders owner Al Davis after four seasons with the Denver Broncos in 1967. He played for the Raiders through 1978 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1984.
After retirement, Brown was an assistant coach for the Raiders from 1979 through 1988. He coached one season at Long Beach State in 1991 and was a high school coach at Jordan High in Los Angeles in 1994.
Brown returned to the Raiders in an administrative role in 1995 and was a team “ambassador” until his death, often representing the organization for functions such as the NFL Draft.
On the field, Brown helped revolutionize the way cornerback was played through “bump and run” man-to-man coverage favored by Davis. He had 39 career interceptions with the Raiders and 54 in his career.
During a memorabilia appearance last year in Petaluma, Brown told the local Argus-Courier, “Nobody had seen the bump and run until I played it.”
When the Raiders won their first Super Bowl following the 1976 season, Brown intercepted a Fran Tarkenton pass and ran it 75 yards for a touchdown, with NFL Films footage of Brown’s return and announcer Bill King’s call of “Old Man Willie” leaving an indelible image among the fan base.
In a question and answer session with fans on Raiders.com in 2012, Brown described his initial meeting with Davis as his greatest moment with the organization.
“Probably the greatest memory as a Raider is coming to the Raiders, meeting Al Davis in Denver,” Brown said. “I was playing with Denver and got traded to the Raiders. He took the time to come to Denver, fly in, talk to me about joining the Raiders. That’s probably the greatest moment.”
Raiders coach Jon Gruden described the news as “crushing” in a text message and quarterback Derek Carr responded to Brown’s death on Twitter.
“Man… going to miss you Willie! I’ll never forget when you called my name on that stage to welcome me into the Raider family 4 life! Prayers to his family,” Carr tweeted.
The deal that brought Brown to Oakland was one of the best trades Davis ever made. Brown was already a star in Denver, but the Raiders owner got him along with quarterback Mickey Slaughter in exchange for defensive tackle Rex Mirich and a third-round draft pick.
David Baker, president of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, issued the following statement regarding Brown: “The entire Hall of Fame family mourns the loss of a great man. Willie Brown was the epitome of the Raiders’ motto of ‘commitment to excellence’ that was integral to the team’s sustained success. He embodied virtues like passion, integrity, perseverance and always led by example. His character, on and off the field, made all those around him better. His legacy will be preserved forever in Canton, Ohio to inspire generations of fans.”
It’s been a difficult year for the Raiders organization. Former wide receiver Cliff Branch died at age 71 on Aug. 3 of natural causes, and others who passed away and were included in an on-field memorial during the preseason opener were Josh Atkinson, son of former Raiders safety George Atkinson, wide receiver Warren Wells, linebacker Duane Benson, defensive end Cedric Hardman, running back Clem Daniels, assistant coach Bob Zeman, friend of the organization and Oakland native MacArthur Lane and assistant coach Guenther Cunningham.
Born in Yazoo City, Mississippi on Dec. 2, 1940, Brown played at Grambling and was not drafted upon graduation. He was initially cut by the Houston Oilers before catching on with Denver.
In describing his job as a cornerback, Brown said in his Hall of Fame biography: “My job was not catching passes. My job was top stop the receiver from catching it. If I could have played 15 or 20 years without an interception, that would have been fine. Anything beyond stopping a receiver, that’s gravy.”