Tim Brown is living proof that good athletic talent can be found anywhere.
In three years as a prep star, Brown’s high school football team won all of four games.
That didn’t stop Notre Dame and a host of other big-name schools from recruiting him.
Brown chose to become a member of the Fighting Irish, and in 1987, he became the first true wide receiver to win the Heisman Trophy.
In 1988 he was the sixth overall pick in the NFL Draft by the Los Angeles Raiders and embarked on a 17-year career.
— 🏴☠️Silver&BlackHoleSun (@ZombieRaider707) September 15, 2023
By the time he retired after the 2004 season, Brown was a nine-time Pro Bowler and considered one of the best to ever play the position.
After retirement, Brown has stayed close to sports as an analyst for ESPN College Football, co-owning an indoor football team, becoming the Commissioner of the Arena Football League, and starting a NASCAR racing team.
This is the story of Tim Brown.
Playmaker from Texas
Timothy Donell Brown was born on July 22, 1966, in San Antonio, Texas to Eugene and Josephine Brown.
— NFL Legacy (@NFLLegacy) July 22, 2021
Tim Brown was one of six children and he showed athletic promise at a young age.
“And he was always outside, playing ball,” said Josephine Brown in 2015. “I’d have to make him come in to eat. When he was about 9, one of my neighbors told me, ‘Let him alone. That boy is going to be pro one day.’ I didn’t know what a pro was. I didn’t watch no football.”
When he was in seventh grade, Brown played middle school football even though his mother was against it.
Two years later, Josephine won the battle when she forbade Tim from playing the sport at Woodrow Wilson High School in Dallas.
Reluctantly, Brown spent his freshman year playing drums in the Wilson High band.
Wild horses couldn’t keep him from his destiny, however, and Eugene Brown secretly signed a school permission slip that allowed his son to play ball his sophomore year.
By the time Josephine found out, Tim was already on the varsity team as a starting wide receiver.
Tim Brown was one of my 1983 Prep Football Report all Americans. I took this picture in the spring of 1983 at Woodrow Wilson high school. He was just 4 and 23 during his 3 yrs at the school. College coach Jay Robertson recommended I stop by the school to check out this somewhat pic.twitter.com/G1vdtOWkDq
— Tom Lemming (@LemmingReport) May 5, 2022
He remained on the Wildcats varsity team for the next two years and was selected as an All-American despite the fact that the program was rarely competitive.
At the end of Brown’s senior year, the Wildcats had a three-year record of 4-25-1.
That didn’t prevent major colleges from recruiting him.
Brown Chooses the Irish
Notre Dame head coach Gerry Faust traveled to Texas to see Brown in action and soon coaches from Texas, SMU, and Oklahoma followed.
Having grown up in the Lone Star State, Brown initially had no intention of going to snowy, cold South Bend, Indiana.
He had his eyes on the football-mad schools of the old Southwest Conference.
When Brown’s parents learned of the reputation of those schools, they were against him attending a program that didn’t emphasize academics.
“Oklahoma and Nebraska at that time were football factories and didn’t seem to care much about a legitimate education,” said Brown. “The more my parents realized what was happening and how there was a free education involved with this, it quickly pointed to Notre Dame.”
Don Brown, Tim’s older brother, was a fan of the Irish and told his parents about the great academics offered by the institution.
WR/KR | Notre Dame (1984-1987)
Rec Yds: 2,493
Rush Yds: 442
Rush TD: 4
Kick Ret Yds: 1,613
Kick Ret TD: 3
— Four Verts Inc. (@IncVerts) December 2, 2020
That sealed it for Eugene and Josephine.
“That’s all they needed to hear,” said Brown. “After that, it was like, ‘That’s where you’re going! There ain’t no future for you in football, boy! Go get that education and come on back home!’”
The deal was cemented further when Coach Faust promised Josephine that Tim would continue going to church while in college.
Having little say in the matter, Brown headed north to Indiana in the summer of 1984.
Freshman Record Breaker
At the time, the 1984 Fighting Irish had sophomore Steve Beuerlein under center and senior tight end Mark Bavaro bowling over defenders.
The six-foot, 190-pound Brown cracked the starting lineup in his first game, although that came as a shock.
“They told me all week they were going to work me in slowly,” Brown recalled. “Then all of a sudden in the locker room, Coach Faust got excited and said, ‘Timmy, I want you to return the opening kickoff!’”
He played in 11 games and caught a freshman-record 28 passes for 340 yards and one touchdown.
Tim Brown was that dude at Notre Dame……a touchdown waiting to happen….. pic.twitter.com/hPElZvSdtS
— PolyesterPalace (@PolyesterPalace) April 14, 2023
Notre Dame went 7-5 and lost to SMU in the Aloha Bowl.
In 1985, Brown had 25 receptions for 397 yards and five touchdowns, including one on the ground and one as a kick returner, as the Irish fell to 5-6.
When the season concluded, Faust was fired.
Holtz Takes Over
With Faust gone to the University of Akron, former University of Minnesota head coach Lou Holtz was hired to take over at Notre Dame in 1986.
It took just a handful of practices for Holtz to become a fan of Brown.
“After three days of spring practice, I made the comment that Tim Brown may be the best football player I’ve ever seen,” Holtz recalled. “He just grasped things. He has an awareness on the field of what he needs to do. He knows the down and distance and when to try to outrun someone and when to cut it back. It’s nothing you can teach or coach.”
Furthermore, Holtz promised that Brown would touch the football as often as possible.
“The only way we’re going to keep the ball out of Tim Brown’s hands is if they intercept the snap from center,” vowed Holtz.
In 1986, the coach stayed true to his word and Brown had 45 catches for 910 yards and five touchdowns, 254 rushing yards and two scores, 75 punt return yards, and 698 kick return yards and two more touchdowns.
"I remember the first time I put on that Notre Dame uniform."
— The Fighting Irish (@FightingIrish) July 9, 2022
His 1,937 all-purpose yards set a school record.
Brown’s Notre Dame legend status skyrocketed when he nearly single-handedly beat the USC Trojans on November 29.
With the Irish down by 17 points and only 13 minutes remaining, Brown returned a kick 57 yards to set up a touchdown.
He then caught a 49-yard pass from Beuerlein to set up another Notre Dame score and two-point conversion.
USC was forced to punt again and Brown took the ball 56 yards to set up the Irish’s game-winning, 38-37, victory.
“Even in high school, when I got the chance to return punts, I was pretty good at it,” said Brown. “Being on such a bad football team – we were 4-25-1 my three years on the varsity — I got a lot of chances to return kickoffs.”
After the season, he was named a consensus All-American.
“Touchdown Timmy” was just getting warmed up.
In the first game of his senior year against ninth-ranked Michigan, Brown sliced through the Wolverine defense and out-leaped two defenders for the game-winning touchdown.
#HeismanMoment | 1987
Tim Brown, Notre Dame
Back-to-back punt return touchdowns vs. Michigan State pic.twitter.com/l2JfqMUoBF
— Pick Six Previews (@PickSixPreviews) December 13, 2019
The following week against Michigan State, he became the first player in the history of college football to return two consecutive punts for a touchdown.
“I had just returned a punt and was on the bench with an oxygen mask on,” Brown said. “There wasn’t a TV timeout in between. So they went right from the touchdown, the extra point, and our guys were back on the field kicking off. Our defense went three-and-out so not even five minutes of real time had passed. I was still sucking air over there. I told coach, ‘Hey, we’ve got to block this. I can’t breathe!’”
Despite Brown’s record day, Spartans head coach George Perles had a ton of respect for the receiver.
“Like a draft when he goes by you,” Perles marveled about Brown.
In 1987, Brown helped the Irish return to bowl eligibility with an 8-4 record including a loss to Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl (Brown scored the game’s first touchdown).
That year, he caught 39 passes for 846 yards and three touchdowns, had 144 yards and one touchdown on the ground, 456 kick return yards, 401 punt return yards, and no less than three punt return scores.
In his college career, Brown caught 137 passes for 2,493 yards, and 12 touchdowns, ran the ball 98 times for 442 yards and four touchdowns, had 69 kick returns for 1,613 yards and three touchdowns, and 36 punt returns for 476 yards and three more scores.
During awards season, Brown was selected as the UPI Player of the Year, Sporting News Player of the Year, the Walter Camp award winner, and chosen as Notre Dame’s seventh Heisman Trophy winner.
Tim Brown from Notre Dame won the Heisman in 1987. pic.twitter.com/fLNyByzWdo
— Miles Commodore (@miles_commodore) July 8, 2022
His selection made Brown the first true receiver in the history of college football to win the Heisman.
He was also the second Heisman winner from Wilson High School to win the award (after Davey O’Brien in 1938).
That gave Wilson the distinction of becoming the first high school in America to boast two Heisman winners.
Both men were honored together in 1989 as initial members of the school’s Hall of Fame.
In 2009, Brown received more accolades when he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
First Round Pick
As one of the nation’s best college players, Brown had no shortage of suitors.
The Los Angeles Raiders sprang into action and selected him with the sixth overall pick of the 1988 NFL Draft.
On April 24, 1988 the Los Angeles Raiders drafted wide receiver Tim Brown from the University of Notre Dame with the 6th pick in the NFL Draft. Brown played for the L.A./Oakland Raiders from 1988 to 2003, finishing out his career in 2004 with the Buccane… https://t.co/gkrhdfa4hA pic.twitter.com/UkBhGpbLvS
— Davenport Sports (@Davenport_SN) April 24, 2018
Team owner Al Davis loved pass-catchers and Brown was added to a receiver room that already had James Lofton, “Swervin’” Mervyn Fernandez, and Willie Gault (not to mention Todd Christensen at tight end).
Despite the immense talent, the Raiders finished 7-9 in 1988.
Brown still made an impression when he led the NFL with 41 kick returns, an astounding 1,098 kick return yards and one touchdown, a 26.8 yards per kick return average, and 1,542 combined return yards.
— Old Time Football 🏈 (@Ol_TimeFootball) October 28, 2023
On top of that, he snagged 43 passes for 725 yards and six total touchdowns.
Brown was named to the Pro Football Writer’s Association All-Rookie Team after the season and selected for his first career Pro Bowl.
For the next few years, Brown struggled to stay relevant while the Raiders struggled to reach their potential.
In the opening week of 1989, Brown was laid low by a knee injury that kept him out the rest of the year.
One season later, Los Angeles went 12-4 and advanced to the AFC Championship game against Buffalo before getting throttled 51-3.
Brown didn’t start a single game in 1990 and caught all of 18 passes and three touchdowns.
In 1991, he returned to the Pro Bowl after 36 catches, five scores, 330 punt return yards and another touchdown.
— AFL Godfather 🏴☠️👓🏈🔥 (@NFLMAVERICK) December 8, 2022
LA had a 9-7 record and lost in the Wild Card round.
Then, during the 1992 season, Brown’s receptions improved to 49 for 693 yards and seven touchdowns and 383 additional yards in punt returns.
The Raiders couldn’t take advantage and regressed to 7-9.
“If you take a look at the rosters the Raiders had my first five years, yeah, we went to one AFC championship game, but why in the world did that team not win two Super Bowls?” Brown said.
Brown is Nearly Unstoppable
After a number of frustrating years, Brown became a world-beater in 1993.
Before that season, former New York Giants quarterback Jeff Hostetler became a Raider and found Brown early and often.
As LA went 10-6, Brown caught 80 passes for 1,180 yards and seven scores and picked up another 465 yards and a touchdown in punt returns.
That brought him another Pro Bowl nod, though his success wasn’t enough to help the Raiders get past Buffalo in the divisional round.
For the next six years, the Raiders missed the playoffs each season and relocated (again) to Oakland after 1994.
— NFL Classic! (@79_nfl) April 30, 2022
The one constant through all the upheaval was Brown who caught 80 or more passes every season (and had over 1,000 yards receiving between 1993 and 2001).
In 1994, he also led the league with 487 punt return yards.
Three years later, he was the NFL co-leader in receptions with 104 even as the Raiders won only four times.
Oakland Returns to the Playoffs
Before the 1998 season, former Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Jon Gruden became the new head coach of the Raiders.
Brown had 81 catches and nine touchdowns that season and followed it up with a Pro Bowl nod after 90 receptions in 1999.
Both seasons saw Oakland steeped in mediocrity with back-to-back 8-8 records.
The Raiders went 12-4 while Brown caught 76 passes and a career-high 11 touchdowns.
Then, after advancing to the AFC Championship, Oakland lost to Baltimore.
In 2001, Brown went to his final Pro Bowl when he caught 91 passes for 1,165 yards and nine scores.
He also returned six punts for 111 yards and another touchdown.
2001 Week 13 (12/09/01):
— Raiders Reels (@RaidersReels) November 13, 2021
The 88-yard return against Kansas City made Brown the oldest player (35 years old) in NFL history to return a punt for a touchdown.
After reaching 10 wins, the team fell to the Patriots in the divisional round.
Oakland Reaches the Promised Land
During the offseason, Gruden and team owner Al Davis locked horns and Gruden was fired, only to land with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Meanwhile, having come agonizingly close to reaching a Super Bowl in 2000 and 2001, the Raiders finally reached their ultimate goal in 2002.
Oakland won 11 times during the regular season and defeated the Jets and the Titans in the playoffs.
Brown caught 81 passes for two touchdowns as part of the NFL’s second-best offense and supplanted Gene Upshaw as the Raiders franchise leader in number of games played (224).
After beating Tennessee, the Raiders returned to the Promised Land for the first time since 1983.
Their opponent was Gruden and Tampa Bay for Super Bowl XXXVII.
Regrettably, Oakland head coach Bill Callahan had not changed the playbook after Gruden left and the audible calls stayed mostly the same as well.
— RaidersEdge (@RaidersEdge) January 22, 2013
The result was the Bucs’ defense knowing almost entirely what Oakland was going to do before they did it.
Tampa Bay took advantage of several turnovers by the Raiders and came away with a resounding 48-21 victory.
During the contest, Brown was held to just one catch for nine yards.
One year after appearing in the Super Bowl, the Raiders fell on hard times and won only four games in 2003.
Brown caught 52 passes for two scores before being released in 2004.
Gruden reached out and signed Brown, but in four starts, the receiver had 24 catches for 200 yards and one touchdown as a Buccaneer.
Tim Brown with the 2004 Tampa Bay Buccaneers pic.twitter.com/kAR61snlnH
— SportsPaper (@SportsPaperInfo) March 17, 2020
His lone score came in Oakland against the Raiders and gave Brown his 100th career reception touchdown.
After the landmark touchdown, the Oakland crowd cheered the former Raider.
When the season ended, Brown knew his best days were behind him and retired after 17 years.
During his career, Brown caught 1,094 passes for 14,934 yards and 100 touchdowns.
He rushed the ball for 190 yards and a score and had 3,320 punt return yards and three touchdowns along with 1,235 kick return yards and a score.
Brown left the Raiders as the organization’s record holder for catches, receiving yards, and punt return yards.
Brown was a nine-time Pro Bowl selection, a second-team All-Pro once, NFL receptions co-leader once, and NFL kick return yards leader once, and was later selected to the league’s 1990s All-Decade Team.
1987 Heisman Trophy Winner Tim Brown can now add NFL Hall of Fame to his long list of career accomplishments. pic.twitter.com/hHsYhu01F8
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) August 9, 2015
In 2015, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
While still playing football, Brown got involved in charity and became the chairman for Athletes & Entertainers for Kids and 9-1-1 for Kids to help mentor disadvantaged youth.
“Once I got to the league, I wanted to go back and work with kids who did not have a male role model in the house,” Brown said in 2015. “I realized how fortunate I was having my father, my brother, my uncle, who was a pastor, and my grandfather, who was a preacher. The coaches that I had … there were a lot of good men around me. I felt this was something I was called to do.”
Brown also worked in the media and was the general manager and co-owner of the Texas Revolution of the Champions Indoor Football League.
Sticking with sports, Brown teamed up with NASCAR through the Drive for Diversity program and founded a racing team.
The Arena League is coming to Waterloo! League Chairman and Commissioner Tim Brown is here. The Heisman trophy winner at Notre Dame played in the NFL and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015. He played high school football against Waterloo’s own Robert Smith! pic.twitter.com/Oz7KFC0J4i
— Mayor Quentin Hart (@QuentinHartIA) May 4, 2023
Then, in 2023, he was named the Commissioner and Chairman of the new Arena Football League that will begin play with four teams in 2024.
Brown currently lives with his wife, Sherice, in Texas and the couple have four children.