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Mike Downey

He Gets No Kicks, Makes Some Blocks, Scores Brownie Points

October 25, 1987|Mike Downey

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — This guy Tim Brown is the greatest college football player I have never seen. I mean it. He has just finished doing, well, almost nothing of note for Notre Dame, and he looked absolutely fabulous doing it. I can't wait to not see him again.

He didn't run much. He didn't catch much. His specialty is returning punts, but he didn't return one all day. I swear, though, this guy could go 90 yards with a fair catch.

He's fast, especially when he's loose. He's tough, tougher than he looks. Sometimes he looks like Tim Brown, but other times he looks like Jim Brown. Against USC Saturday, in Notre Dame's 26-15 win, he looked as good without the ball as he did with the ball. Better, maybe. He probably could have helped Notre Dame win without even suiting up.

I'm ready to give him the Heisman Trophy, right now. Heck, I'm ready to give him the Outland Trophy. You should have seen him block. You should have seen him dump USC's players on their duffs.

This kid can do it all. He just doesn't get much chance to do it. Nobody from the other team will kick the ball to him any more. They kick it high in the blue-gray sky. They kick it end over end. They kick it out of bounds. They'll kick it through a stained-glass window before they kick it to the reverend Tim.

He scares the other team to death. He's the Frightening Irish. Everybody's afraid that he's about to go long for a pass. Everybody's nervous that he's about to take the handoff on a reverse. Round and round Brown goes, and where he stops, nobody knows.

"Just the mere presence of him . . . " Notre Dame Coach Lou Holtz marveled, letting the thought hang there, like a punt. "They're double-covering him. They're triple-covering him. They're watching him every second."

Just think of the damage Brown might do if someone would be kind enough to give him the ball. Lucy is nicer to Charlie Brown than the other kids are to Tim Brown. They practically play keepaway from him. USC's kickers went nowhere near him. If Brown dropped deep 37 yards, the punt went 27 yards. If Brown waited for a kickoff at the goal line, the kicker squibbed it to the 35. You got the feeling if Brown ever lined up face to face with the kicker, the kicker might kick it backwards.

"We didn't want Brown to beat us with a kickoff return or a punt return," USC Coach Larry Smith said.

Well, he got his wish. USC didn't get beaten by any such thing. USC got beaten because Tim Brown and his band of renown ran the ball right down the Trojans' throats. The Irish pulverized the visitors' line, pounding out 351 rushing yards behind a green-as-a-shamrock quarterback. And how many times did big-play buster Brown have to carry? Four times, is all. That works out to a carry a quarter.

Nice work, if you can get it. Brown doesn't need to run the ball 30 or 35 times and get his uniform all dirty. He doesn't need to catch 10 or 15 passes, because the starting quarterback never even throws that many. He doesn't need to do much of anything. Just show up and drive the other team crazy.

"I don't mind giving up the numbers," Brown said Saturday. "What I get out of a game is enough. Coach Holtz tells me he's not going to change the offense just for me, and I wouldn't want him to."

I would. I'd want him to give Brown the ball and get out of his way. I'd let him play offense and defense both, like that Lockbaum kid from Holy Cross. I'd let him call the coin toss, and keep the coin. I'd let him play quarterback, cornerback, wherever he wants. He could spit on Rockne's picture, for all I'd care.

But Holtz has other ideas.

"Remember the Pony Express," the coach said. "You don't use one horse to go all the way. It's a long trip."

Notre Dame people, who always seem to slip horsemen into a football conversation, somehow or another, realize that they have a hard trail ahead. They close out the season with Alabama, Penn State and Miami. They would not want to wear out Tim Brown before then, because without him, Notre Dame wouldn't have a--pardon the blasphemy--prayer of reaching a New Year's Day bowl game.

When Holtz called his players together before the USC game, he threw superstition to the wind and spoke openly about bowl possibilities, warning the Irish that if they wanted any shot at a prestige postseason bid, they had better win this one.

"He said USC was a critical game, if we intended to be playing on Jan. 1," Brown said. "And we do intend. We don't want to be playing in some Dec. 25 game somewhere."

So, he helps out any way he can. If that means running, he will run. Purdue Coach Fred Akers said stopping him is "Like trying to grab hold of a piece of electricity." If that means returning kicks, so be it. Michigan State Coach George Perles said, "He runs like a deer."

And if it means blocking, Brown will throw himself right into it. Tailback Ricky Watters said, "That guy, as good as he is, he doesn't have to block. But on that one screen pass I caught today, he blocked for me all the way down the field. He kept on blocking guys even after I was down. Tim Brown sets an example. He doesn't think being the star means you can stand back and look pretty. He comes to play."

I wonder: Just how well can this man play?

I mean, I know he can run, know he can catch, know he can block. But what else?

"Can you pass?" I ask Tim Brown, after the USC game.

"Yes, I can," he replies.

I am not surprised.

"Don't be surprised," Tim Brown says.

OK, I won't.

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