The NFL announced at the NFL Honors that beginning with the 2022 season, at the conclusion the player with the most rushing yards will be presented with the “Jim Brown Award.”
The reason given was to permanently honor the impact of the former Cleveland Browns legendary fullback. The inaugural winner of the Jim Brown Award is Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs, who rushed for 1,653 yards.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell explained:
“It’s hard to think of a player who has impacted the game and society as much as Jim Brown. His legendary accomplishments on the field were matched or exceeded only by his lifelong dedication to many off the field initiatives, including social justice issues, which have inspired generations of players that have followed him.”
Cleveland’s own Nick Chubb was the league leader for many weeks during this past season, but going down the stretch his carries were limited and he ended up finishing with the third most rushing yards. It would have been fitting to have Chubb win the first one named after the Hall of Famer Brown.
“I saw first-hand the high regard players have for Jim a few years ago while attending a meeting with current players. The room was loud…until Jim entered. Then the room instantly grew silent, which was every attendee’s way of paying respect to one of the greatest players of all time. This award is our way of ensuring that recognition of Jim’s impact on the NFL and society continues forever.”
Brown was an after-thought in the draft for the Browns when he was selected in 1957. Head coach Paul Brown wanted one of the two best quarterbacks available in Len Dawson of Purdue and Stanford’s John Brodie. After the 1955 season, QB Otto Graham had retired for good after the Browns captured their third NFL title. Graham led Cleveland to seven league championships, four in the All-America Football Conference, an NFL rival league, and then the three NFL titles.
In 1956, the quarterback was George Ratterman as the Browns began 2-5-0 and finished 5-7-0. It was Coach Brown’s very first losing season ever and his worst win-loss record since going 5-4-1 his first year as head coach at Massillon Washington High School in 1932.
The 1956 season became a rotation of quarterbacks including Ratterman (4 games), Tommy O’Connell (7), and Babe Parilli (5). Coach Brown’s offense was predicated on the superior intellect of his quarterback. For 1957, he was set on solving this.
The Browns had the sixth pick in the draft. Green Bay took Heisman Trophy winner Paul Hornung of Notre Dame with the first overall selection. Los Angeles grabbed RB Jon Arnett while San Francisco then picked Brodie third. Two teams left with Dawson still on the board.
Green Bay had the fourth slot and chose WR Ron Kramer. With Pittsburgh on the clock, they took Dawson.
The Browns already had RB Preston Carpenter and FB Ed Modzelewski on the roster and Coach Brown was satisfied with their production. With the sixth pick, Coach ended up with Jim Brown who was more widely-known for his All-American status as a lacrosse player at Syracuse than his football skills. Coach Brown did take QB Milt Plum of Penn State in Round 2.
For the 1957 season, Brown rushed for 942 yards with nine touchdowns. These two stats were more than Carpenter and Modzelewski produced combined the year before. Cleveland went 9-2-1 and then lost to Detroit in the NFL Championship Game.
For his efforts, Jim Brown was named the NFL Rookie of the Year, NFL rushing yards leader, NFL rushing touchdowns leader, made the Pro Bowl, named First Team All-Pro, plus named the NFL MVP.
In his nine seasons, Brown was named NFL MVP three times, NFL Champion (1964), selected as a First Team All-Pro eight years (Second Team All-Pro in 1962), 5-time NFL rushing touchdowns leader, 8-times NFL rushing yards leader, NFL scoring leader (1958), and was elected to the Pro Bowl all nine years.
At the conclusion of his career, the Browns retired his #32 jersey, placed him in the Cleveland Browns Ring of Honor, named to the 1960s All-Decade Team, and named to the NFL 50th, 75th and 100th Anniversary Teams.
Now, the NFL has named an award after this Browns legend.
Jacobs stated this after winning the maiden achievement:
“It is a true honor to be named as the first recipient of the Jim Brown Award. Jim’s excellence on the football field was unparalleled and his role as a leader off the field showed his unwavering strength and commitment to the community. Jim’s impact can be felt today and his legacy continues through everyone that strives to make a difference. I am beyond proud to receive an award named for such a great man.”
There already is in place an award presented each year for the leading ground gainer called the FedEx Ground Player of the Year. Jacobs beat out Tennessee Titans’ Derrick Henry and Chubb for that award.
Jim Brown’s rookie year of 1957 is also the year that the franchise placed decals on the sides of their helmets. Aptly referred to as “The Jim Brown rookie year helmet”, jersey numbers were affixed to the sides of helmets.