Roosevelt “Rosey” Brown was one of the greatest offensive linemen in New York Giants franchise history.
Nobody ever saw Brown’s rise to the Pro Football Hall of Fame coming—his football coach had to coax him to leave his high school band and sign up for the football team instead.
That fortuitous turn of events paved the way for Brown’s meteoric rise on the gridiron and induction into the Hall of Fame in Canton, OH three decades later.
With Brown becoming a pillar of strength on the offensive line, he opened up holes for Frank Gifford, protected quarterbacks Charlie Conerly and Y.A. Tittle, and helped the Giants win the Super Bowl in 1956.
Roosevelt “Rosey” Brown set the bar high for offensive linemen and left behind a gridiron legacy that Big Blue fans will forever cherish.
Roosevelt “Rosey” Brown, Jr. was born in Charlottesville, VA on October 20, 1932.
Morgan State Bears assistant football coach, Talmadge Hill, who spoke about Brown during his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction in 1975, said he was fortunate to be part of a good family.
“Rosey came into this world blessed with a Christian heritage and a philosophy of life which began with love and respect,” Hill said in the summer of 1975.
Consequently, Brown’s stellar upbringing earned him the respect of his teachers and peers.
Brown’s father worked for the Southern Railroad. Brown remembered that he would be away the entire week and would only return on weekends.
Brown told The New York Times in 1964 that his mother took him to a school where he took a test. Brown passed it and immediately entered third grade because there were no first and second-grade classes in that school at the time.
Brown’s unexpected promotion set off a domino effect—he graduated high school when he was just 15 years old. He earned his college diploma several years later when he was just 19.
When the 14-year-old Brown attended Jefferson High School, he already stood 6’1″ and weighed 210 pounds (by Hill’s estimate)—it was a clear indication that he was destined for greatness on the football field.
Hall of Fame OT Roosevelt Brown was born OTD in 1932. Hall of Fame Enshrinement Class of 1975. Brown played 13 seasons with the @Giants. He was selected to 9 Pro Bowls and the NFL's 75th Anniversary All-Time Team. pic.twitter.com/nmj2YnMtYw
— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) October 20, 2018
The gargantuan Brown was a member of his school’s 63-piece band, and he played the slide trombone. At the time, he was under orders not to play football because an uncle—his dad’s brother—had previously played the sport and tragically passed away.
However, new Jefferson High school football coach Robert W. Smith convinced him to swap his trombone for a helmet, football uniform, and a pair of cleats.
Before Smith convinced Brown, he had to convince his band director, which was no easy feat.
“The band director almost wanted to fight me for him,” Smith said at a coach’s testimonial dinner in 1975 (via the Charlottesville-Albemarle Tribune and Wikipedia). “He said that Rosey would be a great trumpet player, and I said he’d be a great blocker. I just couldn’t see a 210-lb. kid playing the trumpet.”
It turned out Smith didn’t merely convince Brown to play football—he intervened in Brown’s life at the perfect time and became an important father figure as his gridiron career progressed.
Rosey Brown never told his father about his transition from the band to the gridiron. When his father found out the following year, he was furious.
Unfortunately, he couldn’t do anything about it—it was far too late to convince Rosey Brown to do something else.
Little did Coach Smith know that he also unearthed a gem who would become a nine-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle with the NFL’s New York Giants.
College Days With The Morgan State Bears
Rosey Brown accepted a football scholarship from Morgan State College, a historically black college in Baltimore, MD.
Brown’s high school football coach Robert W. Smith accompanied him to the No. 36 southern railroad train bound for Charm City prior to his freshman year.
When Brown arrived in Baltimore, he met his Morgan State Bears head football coach Eddie Hertz—an icon Talmadge Hill considered the “Knute Rockne” of his era.
Hill put Hertz on the same pedestal as the late Notre Dame Fighting Irish head football coach because he propelled Morgan State to a 64-game winning streak with only six ties during his heyday.
— Morgan State Bears (@MorganStBears) June 1, 2017
According to NFL executive Scott Pioli, Morgan State College was a member of the Colored Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) when Rosey Brown set foot on campus.
The CIAA later became known as the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, which still exists to this day. Morgan State is currently part of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
Although Pioli admitted that he had never watched Brown play, he became fascinated with him and his fellow Morgan State Bears players through one of his hobbies as a youngster—collecting sports cards.
Pioli raved about Brown, Leroy Kelly, Willie Lanier, Raymond Chester, and John “Frenchy” Fuqua. He idolized them so much he has kept their sports cards intact to this day.
Brown, the former high school slide trombone player, emerged as a force in the Bears’ offensive line during his college days. In fact, he became a co-captain during his tenure at Morgan State.
Brown also earned all-conference honors as an offensive lineman in 1951 and 1952. The Pittsburgh Courier also named Brown to its All-America team in 1952.
Roosevelt “Rosey” Brown was just getting started. The unheralded big man would next embark on a legendary 13-year career with the New York Giants in the pro football ranks.
Pro Football Career
The New York Giants made Rosey Brown the 321st overall selection of the 1953 NFL Draft. By the time he made the leap to the pro football ranks, he stood 6’3″ and weighed 255 pounds, per The New York Times.
Because Brown entered the third grade when he was just six years old, he broke into the National Football League when he was just 20 years old in the spring of 1953.
The NFL Draft had 30 rounds in the 1950s—a far cry from the seven rounds of modern times. When the Giants reached the 27th round of the draft, they didn’t know who they would select.
When Giants executives reconvened at a table during the draft, one of them held a copy of the black newspaper, The Pittsburgh Courier. Lo and behold, the paper featured Rosey Brown and other college all-star players on its sports pages, per The New York Times.
The Giants took that as a hint—they took Brown in the 27th round of the 1953 NFL Draft.
“So we took him,” New York Giants vice president Wellington Mara told The New York Times 11 years later. “It didn’t seem to make much difference who we took then.”
That, in a nutshell, was Rosey Brown’s fortuitous entry into the National Football League.
The Giants signed Brown to a one-year deal worth $3,000 and provided him with a train ticket to training camp, per The New York Times’s Frank Litsky.
Eventual nine-time Pro Bowl safety Emlen Tunnell first met Brown in Baltimore, MD in the spring of 1953.
Tunnell told The New York Times that Brown didn’t look much like an imposing football player when he first saw him.
Brown wore dorky glasses and a homburg hat. He also brought a wrapped umbrella with him when he met Tunnell.
Yet, Brown and Tunnell became more than just teammates for the next six seasons—they became friends for life.
— 𝙃𝙚𝙡𝙢𝙚𝙩 𝘼𝙙𝙙𝙞𝙘𝙩 (@HelmetAddict) September 17, 2018
As expected, Rosey Brown was raw and had to learn the nuances of playing left tackle at the professional football level.
Giants scout Al DeRogatis told The New York Times in 1964 that offensive line coach Ed Kolman had to teach Brown—who had no idea how to take the proper stance—just about all of the fundamentals.
Fortunately for the Giants, Brown had tremendous upsides: he had the size, athleticism, and coordination to become a great offensive lineman. He just needed to take Kolman’s teachings to heart.
Rosey Brown had his share of struggles while learning the ropes of the pro game.
When Brown worked as a scout for the Giants after he retired in 1966, he told general manager Ernie Accorsi that he couldn’t block Cleveland Browns defensive end Len Ford in a game during his rookie season in 1953.
Ford repeatedly jumped over Brown to the dismay of Giants head coach Steve Owen.
An exasperated Owen told Brown in no uncertain terms that he’d cut him if he couldn’t find a way to block Ford.
When play resumed, Brown tackled Ford two plays in a row. A surprised Ford threatened to kill Brown, who nonchalantly shrugged it off. Brown told Ford his job was on the line so getting killed was the least of his concerns.
Hall of Fame linebacker Sam Huff first met Rosey Brown at training camp in 1956. Huff, who was a rookie, was in awe of the colossal Brown.
“He was a big Jim Brown,” Huff told Litsky some forty-eight years later. “I wanted to turn around and go back to West Virginia. Are they all built like this?”
Brown played left tackle for the Giants and protected four quarterbacks during his 13-year tenure in the Big Apple: Charlie Conerly, George Shaw, Y.A. Tittle, and Earl Morrall.
NFL executive Scott Pioli spent his formative years watching Rosey Brown develop into one of the finest offensive linemen in the National Football League.
Pioli, who grew up in New York, admitted his encyclopedic knowledge of New York Giants football history easily dwarfed his grasp of 10th-grade geometry, per NFL.com.
Pioli’s father, who hailed from the Bronx, was another staunch Giants follower. One of the latter’s favorite players was Roosevelt “Rosey” Brown because he and the other Giants linemen did the dirty work in the trenches.
— NFL (@NFL) December 14, 2019
Rosey Brown took great pride in doing his work in the trenches, opening up holes for his running backs, protecting the quarterback, and winning games for the New York Giants.
“The backs who carry the ball, they get the credit, the headlines, the big money,” Brown told The New York Times in his twelfth pro season in 1964.” But they know and we know that they wouldn’t be anything if it wasn’t for us who give them the blocks.”
Brown loved the sight of a Giants running back gaining a huge chunk of yardage after he had taken one of the pass rushers out of the picture. He knew halfbacks couldn’t move the sticks on the ground if it weren’t for their offensive linemen.
Brown loved football so much he even told The New York Times in 1964 that players have to enjoy the sport and not play just for the sake of earning money.
According to the same publication, Brown earned approximately $20,000 annually during the pinnacle of his success in the National Football League.
Another player with the last name “Brown,” running back Jim of the Cleveland Browns, earned $50,000 every year. Giants quarterback Y.A. Tittle, who Rosey Brown protected for four seasons from 1961 to 1964, earned the same salary.
Brown helped open up running holes for halfback Frank Gifford for 12 seasons. Gifford, who became a broadcaster and actor after he retired, earned roughly three to four times Brown’s NFL salary during his playing days, per The New York Times.
Gifford, who entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977, gave credit to Brown for his induction.
“I wouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame if it weren’t for him,” Gifford told The New York Times in 2004.
Gifford remembered Brown making two bone-crunching blocks in a game against the Washington Redskins that allowed him to break loose for a 79-yard gain—the longest of his storied pro football career.
Best Player by Jersey Number: #79
1956 #Topps #41
Hall of Famer, 9x Pro Bowler, 6x All Pro and literally led the way for Frank Gifford to win an #NFL championship for the #Giants in 1956. Graduated HS at 15, college at 19.#Footballcards #collect #thehobby pic.twitter.com/Zh1ATg2ePc
— 60 Years of Topps Football Cards (@ToppsGallery) June 22, 2021
For the most part, Rosey Brown was a gentle giant on the gridiron. Officials kicked him out of a game just once during his 12th NFL season.
Tunnell, who was one of Brown’s closest friends and who became a football scout after he retired, remembered the incident vividly.
Tunnell told The New York Times that Brown once got into a scuffle with the Chicago Cardinals’ Jerry Groom. The officials tossed both of them from the game.
A fuming Brown shouted some obscenities as he made his way to the Giants’ bench. Instead of consoling him, his teammates laughed because they couldn’t understand a word he said.
When Brown heard them laughing, he regained his composure. However, Tunnell didn’t want to go near his friend because he felt he was still livid moments after that altercation with Groom.
Rosey Brown was the perfect epitome of a diamond in the rough in the National Football League.
The Giants made him the 321st overall selection of the 1953 NFL Draft. Fast forward 12 years later and he was one of just five players from that draft class who were still playing in the NFL in 1964, per The New York Times.
Just like many hard-working offensive linemen, Rosey Brown also had his fair share of injuries on the gridiron. Like the consummate professional he was, he played through most of them. He was one of the most durable offensive linemen of his era.
However, there were times when he could only take so much punishment on the football field.
Brown broke his cheekbone in a game against the Baltimore Colts in 1958. It happened when he squeezed himself between the Colts’ Gino Marchetti and Gene “Big Daddy” Lipscomb so he could open up a hole for Giants halfback Frank Gifford.
The combined 540-lb. weights of Marchetti and Lipscomb shattered Brown’s helmet. As Brown fell to the ground, an unidentified force fractured his cheekbone. Before he knew it, he discovered a huge hole in his face.
Despite the harrowing injury, Rosey Brown took the field for the Giants just two weeks later.
Through Brown’s 12th NFL season in 1964, he had missed just two other games. A concussion forced him to sit out one game in 1962. Brown twisted his ankle in the Giants’ fifth game of the 1964 NFL season and had to sit that one out as well.
Whenever Brown took a hard hit that almost laid him out, Giants team physician Dr. Francis Sweeney asked him what day it was, what team they were playing, and what the score was at the time of the hit.
Brown recalled Sweeney asking him those questions plenty of times during his pro football career.
Brown resided in the Teaneck, NJ area during his NFL career. One of his neighbors and closest friends was New York Yankees catcher Elston Howard.
Brown did promotional work for Ballantine’s Brewing in the offseasons, per The New York Times.
79 days until 2022 #NFL season opener (#Bills at #Rams). And # of @ProFootballHOF T Roosevelt Brown Jr., 27th round pick, 9-time Pro Bowler, 6-time All-Pro in 13 seasons w/#Giants@JulesForTheBlue @PfgVibe #NFL pic.twitter.com/NyR6VjsmcX
— Russell S. Baxter (@BaxFootballGuru) June 21, 2022
The New York Giants averaged eight wins per year during Rosey Brown’s 13-year NFL career. They enjoyed their most successful stretch from 1956 to 1963.
During that seven-year time frame, the Giants won six division titles and an NFL title. They beat the Chicago Bears in lopsided fashion in the 1956 NFL Championship Game, 47-7.
It was the first and only NFL title Rosey Brown had won during his illustrious pro football career.
Brown also earned nine Pro Bowl, six First-Team All-Pro, and three Second-Team All-Pro selections from 1955 to 1965.
Brown retired from the National Football League on August 24, 1966, after a struggle with phlebitis, an inflammation of the veins in his right leg.
Nonetheless, Roosevelt “Rosey” Brown set the bar high for offensive linemen of his era.
Even NFL legends like Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi sung Brown’s praises.
“When you think of great tackles in professional football, you must think of Rosey Brown,” Lombardi told The New York Times in 1964.
Roosevelt “Rosey” Brown had two stepchildren with his wife Linda: a stepson named Kyle and a stepdaughter named Tiffany.
Brown remained with the Giants organization after his playing days. In fact, the team hired him to become an assistant offensive line coach on the day he retired in August 1966. He served in that capacity for the next five years.
Brown then became a New York Giants college scout for the next three decades.
Former New York Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi recalled one time when Brown gave a heartfelt talk to team executives and coaching staff. Instead of giving a recorded talk, Brown explained to them the nuances of drafting, scouting, and teaching football fundamentals to rookies.
The stirring speech made Accorsi think that Roosevelt Brown was wise beyond his years, per The New York Times.
13 NFL seasons, all with @Giants.
An NFL Champion, member of the NFL's 1950s All-Decade Team & 100th anniversary All-Time team.
In short, Roosevelt Brown was a force.
— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) June 9, 2022
The Pro Football Hall of Fame inducted Rosey Brown in the summer of 1975. Former Morgan State Bears assistant football coach Talmadge Hill was his presenter.
Brown became just the second player to be enshrined in Canton based solely on his exemplary play on the offensive line, per Pioli.
One of the first things Brown said in his induction speech was he recently had to bury his good friend and former New York Giants safety, Emlen Tunnell, who passed away in July 1975.
Brown paid homage to Tunnell, who was his teammate with the Giants for many years. Tunnell became a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967.
Brown also made special mention of his mother, Talmadge Hill, Tim Mara, and Jack Mara. He ended his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech by paying tribute to the sport of gridiron football.
“Football will always be the number one sport,” Brown said in the summer of 1975. “Treat this game good. Treat football good and it will be good to you.”
Brown is also a member of the NFL 1950s All-Decade Team, the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, the NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team, the New York Giants Ring of Honor, the Morgan State University Hall of Fame, and the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame.
Rosey Brown’s favorite hobbies included listening to music (all genres except rock and roll), collecting cars, and shopping for clothes. When Brown was a 12-year NFL veteran, he had a Ford Thunderbird and a Cadillac in his garage.
Sadly, Roosevelt “Rosey” Brown passed away on June 11, 2004. His wife Linda told The New York Times that he had a heart attack while gardening.