Raymond Brown: Sugar Bowl Legend
By Ted Lewis for the Allstate Sugar Bowl
[This story originally appeared in the Official Game Program for the 2019 Allstate Sugar Bowl.]
It’s safe to say that nobody’s ever had a Sugar Bowl like Ray Brown of Ole Miss. And it’s even safer to stay nobody else will ever will.
Playing against Texas on January 1, 1958, Brown ran for two touchdowns, passed for another, had three interceptions with six tackles, held for placekicks and punted seven times in the Rebels’ 39-7 rout of the Longhorns.
The outstanding performance made him the first unanimous Miller-Digby Trophy winner as the game’s most valuable player. Raoul Carlisle, a sportswriter from Arkansas who had seen all 24 Sugar Bowls to that point, declared that Brown was the greatest performer in its history.
And that was just before Brown’s final TD – a 92-yard run in the fourth quarter which began with a high punt snap into the end zone, making it actually about 105 yards. The official length still ranks as the longest play from scrimmage in the game’s 84 years.
Brown said he was so tired at that point that he considered asking for a substitute punter. Not trusting how far he could kick the ball, Brown advised his teammates to get downfield quickly rather than worrying about blocking for him.
It worked out.
“I didn’t know I was in the clear until I looked back near midfield and saw all of those blue shirts around me,” he said. “And I kept hearing (teammate) Jackie Simpson yelling, ‘Lateral, Ray, lateral. I knew he wanted the ball because there wasn’t anybody else around but us Rebels.”
It was just another example of the good fortune that seemed to follow Brown’s life.
“We used to tease Ray about how lucky he was,” said Robert Khayat, a teammate on that Sugar Bowl team. “He was really blessed – looked like Mr. America right out of central casting and always in the right place at the right time.
“And then he goes to the NFL and plays on two championship teams with Baltimore Colts.”
Khayat, who would become Brown’s law partner for three years in Pascagoula, Miss., and later chancellor at Ole Miss, added that good timing carried over to Brown’s legal career.
While playing for the Colts, Brown was also attending law school at the University of Maryland although he would eventually get his degree from Ole Miss.
One day at Maryland, Supreme Court justice Tom Clark came to address one of Brown’s classes. They got to talking football, and Clark wound up asking Brown to become one of his clerks.
That clerkship, according to Frank Crosthwait, a friend of Brown’s from their days together at Ole Miss, led Brown to give up pro football after only three seasons (he’d been the Colts’ starting safety for two years as well as Johnny Unitas’ backup and the team punter) to enter law practice full time.
“All along Ray knew he wanted to be a lawyer,” said Crosthwait, who still maintains his own practice in Indianola, Miss. “He knew he couldn’t just live off being a football player. And he became a very good and very successful lawyer.”
Indeed, he was.
A native of Greenville, Brown settled in Pascagoula, hometown of his wife, Lyn, where he became one of the state’s top defense attorneys.
Over the years, Brown would serve as president of the Mississippi Bar Association as well as state chair and national board member of the College of Trial Lawyers and president of the Ole Miss Law Alumni. Brown received lifetime achievement awards from both the Mississippi Bar and the Mississippi Defense Lawyers Association. He and his wife would endow a scholarship at his alma mater’s law school.
And in 2007, Brown was named to the Wall Street Journal’s Lawyer-Football Hall of Fame along with Supreme Court justice Byron White and President Gerald Ford.
That’s because, of course, before he’d been a lawyer, Brown was a football player and hero in his home state.
“Football probably opened some doors for Ray,” Crosthwait said. “He was sure proud to wear that championship ring. But he probably became about as well known for both.”
Brown was the model for athletic and student leadership in high school where he was a four-sport athlete as well as president of the student council.
At Ole Miss he played baseball as well as football and was president of the business school.
“In those days, you could be an athlete and a regular student,” Khayat said. “Maybe we were built a little different and walked with a little more swagger in our lettermen’s jackets, but we had to take care of making sure our classes didn’t conflict with practice, too.
“There was discipline that came with being a football player, too. We were too tired to fool around at night, so we just stayed in our rooms and studied our tails off.”
It was an especially good time to be an Ole Miss football player.
Under legendary coach Johnny Vaught, the Rebels went 111-19-8 between 1951 and 1963, winning three national championships, three SEC titles and making 10 bowl appearances, seven of them in New Orleans.
“We called it ‘Camelot,’” Khayat said. “Coach Vaught was a genius at breaking down the offense and defense of the teams we were playing, and he really knew how to run the split-T.”
The overwhelming majority of the players were home grown as well.
Archie Manning, later to become an all-time great for the Rebels as well as a Sugar Bowl MVP, recalled growing up in Drew, Miss., and listening to games when the broadcasters would reel off the starting lineups, always including the home towns. Many of them where located in the Delta where he and Brown grew up.
“I loved hearing those home towns because a lot of them weren’t far from me,” Manning said. “Ray Brown was probably one of the first I remember.”
Brown became the Rebels’ starting quarterback in 1956, when, in another fortuitous turn, senior John Wallace Blalock was lost for the season with a leg injury in the second game.
Brown led the SEC in passing that season as the Rebels finished 7-3.
In 1957, with Brown as the All-SEC quarterback after leading the league in total offense. The Rebels went 8-1-1 with only a tie against Mississippi State preventing them from sharing the conference title with Auburn. However, Auburn was on NCAA probation and ineligible for a bowl, allowing the Sugar Bowl to invite the sixth-ranked Rebels – more good fortune for Brown – to face off against Texas and first-year coach Darrell Royal.
With Vaught’s teams having lost in their last two Sugar Bowls (1953 and 1955), Vaught didn’t want to take any chances. Instead of spending the week before the game in New Orleans or Biloxi as they had in the past, the Rebels remained in Oxford until the day before the game.
“There wasn’t anybody else on campus and nothing to do but practice,” Khayat said. “We weren’t very happy about it, but it made us decide we were going to beat the hell out of Texas so we could party afterwards.”
Ole Miss did just that.
On a chilly, 47-degree afternoon in Tulane Stadium the Rebels converted an early Texas fumble into a one-yard touchdown run by Brown.
In the second quarter Brown threw a three-yard scoring pass to Don Williams, tracked down the Longhorns’ George Blanch after a 46-yard run to save a Texas TD, coffin-cornered a punt at the 7 and then intercepted a pass at the 20 to set up another TD that gave the Rebels a 19-0 halftime lead.
The Rebels added another score in third quarter and were up 26-7 before Brown’s record-breaking run, which would have been just a meaningless punt without the high snap.
“Ray probably talked about that run almost as much as he did playing in the Greatest Game Ever Played (the Colts’ overtime victory against the New York Giants in the 1959 NFL championship game),” Khayat said. “But he’d earned it.
“Every now and then, one of those people come along who has the respect of everyone. That was Ray.”
Not surprisingly, Brown was elected to the Ole Miss Student Hall of Fame, the Alumni Hall of Fame, the Law Alumni Hall of Fame and the Athletic Hall of Fame.
Along with his contributions to his school, which included a term as president of the alumni association, Brown was also a civic leader in Pascagoula where among things he was chairman of the board of trustees of the First United Methodist Church, chairman of the Gulf Coast Community Foundation and president of the Pascagoula Rotary and Jaycees.
In 2017, there came another honor. The Sugar Bowl established its own hall of fame, and Brown was chosen as one of the inaugural class of 16.
Manning, also an honoree in that first group and a Sugar Bowl member, was the one who informed Brown of his selection.
“I can’t tell you how proud and excited he was when I told him,” Manning said. “He said it was as big as anything that had ever happened to him.”
Brown was to have been inducted before last year’s game. But a week earlier, on Christmas Day, he unexpectedly died of a heart attack while walking on his property near Gautier. He was 82.
Three days later Brown was buried alongside Lyn, who had died a year before after 58 years of marriage. They left behind three children and eight grandchildren.
“Man, it hit me hard,” Khayat said. “We kid about how lucky he was, but here was someone who was successful in everything he did, including raising a fine family.
“Ray was proud to tell people he was from Mississippi and especially Ole Miss. He’s the model for any athlete or any student we’ve ever had.”