Tuesday, March 10, 2015
The Scarlet Scourge
In his day, Matt Brown was considered one of the best football players in the football powerhouse state of Ohio. Not a big man at all and weighing in as a senior in high school at 157 pounds, Brown played in an era when the single wing formation was the offense of the day. Brown, a fast and strong blocker, was a natural quarterback and fullback, who blocked for the halfback who ran and threw passes under the single wing formation.
Matt Brown, a son of Solmon and Thenia Brown, was born in Dublin, Georgia in 1922. The Brown family soon moved to Canton, Ohio. Ironically Canton is the home of the National Football Hall of Fame. And, it was football which made Matt Brown famous in the State of Ohio.
Brown was more than a fast and effective blocker. In those days, most players played both ways on offense and defense. It was on defense where Brown shined at linebacker. Although no defensive stats from his days at McKinley High in Canton, Ohio and at Ohio State University survive, Brown was regarded by his peers as one of the best of the Scarlet and Gray, the runner up for the 1944 NCAA National Championship.
Brown enrolled in McKinley High, an integrated high school in Canton. McKinley High is seventh in the nation in all time football wins with 739, coming in behind its chief, long time rival, Massillon. The two Starke County schools, located 8 miles apart, are the all time kings of Ohio high school football and two of the nation's greatest football programs. McKinley won the 1934 High School National Championship. Massillon was the top team in the nation in 1935, 1936 and 1940.
Matt Brown joined the team in 1939 as a 160-pound right half back under coach John Reed. One of his idols at McKinley was the great Marion Motley, a fellow Georgian, who went on to become a stalwart member of the Cleveland Browns and the second African American member of NFL Hall of Fame in Canton.
In the 1939 contest, Matt Brown managed to score his team's only touchdown in yet another loss to Massillon.
After Massillon's victory in the 1940, their legendary coach Paul Brown paid homage to Matt Brown, the McKinley captain, for fighting his heart out in an effort to win the game. It would be Paul Brown's last game as a high school coach and Matt Brown's last as a high school player. The following year, Coach Brown took the reins of the Ohio State Buckeyes. After the end of the war, he became the coach of the Cleveland Browns leading them to 4 AAFC titles and 3 NFL championships.
For his efforts in his final two seasons, Matt Brown was named to the All-Ohio team. He was generally regarded as McKinley's best player in the 1940 season. Going with Coach Brown to Ohio State was his assistant coach, Carroll Whiddoes. Both men remembered Matt's heart, drive and determination in the two games against Massillon and convinced him to join the team. They made a wise choice as Dublin native lettered for three seasons.
The 1943 Buckeyes, decimated by the loss of many of their best players to the war effort, managed to earn three easy victories, but the Ohioans lost twice as many games in Paul Brown's final season in the collegiate ranks. In 1944, Brown joined the Navy and coached a team at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center.
For most of the 1943 season, Matt Brown was nagged by injuries. On October 9, 1943 at Ross Field in Chicago, Matt Brown was a part of trio of backs who made college football history. In the game against Great Lakes, Matt Brown started at fullback, Red Williams started at quarterback, and Jasper Harris was the starting halfback. What was remarkable about that lineup was that all three backs were graduates of the same high school, McKinley High in Canton. It was a mark which has rarely, if ever, been matched in the 145 years of college football. Brown played some at quarterback, who in the single wing formation was primarily only a blocking back.
It was during his junior season of 1944 when Matt Brown stepped it up another notch. Brown was a monster on defense, then under Coach Whiddoes. Brown, on defense, lead the team which easily outpaced all of its opponents, except in the Michigan game, which they won by only four points.
Brown was one of two starting offensive backs with experience. The other was Lee Horvath, a graduate student in dental school, who was allowed to come back and play in his last year of eligibility. Horvath had a breakout season in 1944, gaining 669 rushing yards and 1,200 all-purpose yards as the Buckeyes turned in a 9 0 record and finished second in the national polls, behind the powerful and unbeatable Army team.
In 1945, Brown was a stalwart on defense, playing with Oliver Cline, who went on to play six seasons in professional football. The Buckeyes finished 7-2, with a close loss to Michigan and a stunning upset by Purdue.
After leaving football at the end of the 1945 season, Matt Brown returned to the athletic fields in 1948 when he was hired by Coach Bill Bell as the boxing coach of the North Carolina A&T Aggies. Brown coached the Aggie boxing team to a Central Inter-collegiate Athletic Association tide in 1952. In 1952 and 1953, Brown's tennis team garnered the conference championship.
Brown left A&T in 1954. Fourteen years later he returned as the head tennis coach and assistant football coach under Hornsby Howell.
At A&T, Brown was heralded as one of the university's exceptional backfield coaches. His star players included William "Red" Jackson, the Aggies' All-American quarterback in the early 1950's. Brown also coached Art Statuni, who won the NCAA heavyweight boxing championship in 1953.
After a long illness, Matt Brown died on June 22, 1976 in a Greensboro, N.C. hospital. Brown was still in the prime of life as a coach.
In his brief stay on the Earth, Matt Brown was one of the lucky ones, a group of young African American Laurens County boys from the 191os and 1920s, which included boxing champion Sugar Ray Robinson, baseball all star Quincy Trouppe, Negro League footballer Otis Troup, inventor Claude Harvard, N.A.S.A. physicist Robert Shurney and Tuskegee Airmen; Cummings, John Whitehead and Marion Rodgers. These young men were able to escape the bondage of the South's social and political ways of their youths to exceed at the highest levels in athletics, science and military service.