O'Hara: Roger Brown says the Lions had the original "Fearsome Foursome"

Posted Jun 10, 2013

With the recent death of iconic defensive end Deacon Jones, memories of the "Fearsome Foursome" have resurfaced

Roger Brown's long and distinguished career as one of the dominant defensive tackles of his era was rich in memories and historical footnotes.
Roger BrownDT Roger Brown

The memories and footnotes have resurfaced with the death of iconic defensive end Deacon Jones, and references to a defensive line known as the "'Fearsome Foursome."

In a career that began as a fourth-round draft pick by Lions in 1960 and ended with the Rams when he retired after the 1969 season to pursue a lucrative foray into the restaurant business, Brown played alongside some of the greatest linemen and grandest personalities in NFL history.

His linemates included Alex Karras, Darris McCord and Sam Williams on the Lions, and Jones, Merlin Olsen and Lamar Lundy on the Rams.

Brown was a star, not a bit player, on both teams. He made the Pro Bowl six straight years (1962-67) and was first-team All-Pro in 1962-63. Brown nearly made the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009, but that's a story for another day.

The passing of Deacon Jones last week – who was credited with inventing the term "sacking" the quarterback – revives for Brown and many others highlights of his era and historical lore.

Brown has unique status. He is the only man in history to play on both pro defensive lines that were popularly called "The Fearsome Foursome."

The Rams have been romanticized over the years as the original Fearsome Foursome. The name and legend resurfaced last week with the death of Jones.

Brown says that Jones might have been the greatest defensive end he ever saw, but the Lions had the original Fearsome Foursome. He joined the Rams' unit – Fearsome Foursome 2.0 – when he was traded to L.A. in 1967.

Brown credits Bruno Kearns, a sportswriter with the Pontiac Press (now Oakland Press), with coining the phrase. Van Patrick, the Lions' play-by-play man at the time and a nationally known broadcaster, popularized it.

Patrick had a national following and made such phrases as "cliffhanger" for a close game and "home-run ball" for a long pass part of the football lexicon.

"Van adopted it," Brown said in a telephone interview from his home in Portsmouth, Va., where he operates one of his restaurants. "Bruno Kearns came up with it, saying that the Detroit Lions' defensive line is a 'Fearsome Foursome.' Then, everybody came up with names – 'Purple People Eaters, Doomsday Defense, Steel Curtain.'"

The original unit in Detroit had Williams and McCord at the ends, with Karras and Brown inside at tackle.

According to some historical references, the Rams had the nickname in the early 1960s, with Merlin Olsen, Lamar Lundy, Roosevelt Grier and Jones together. Grier's career ended in 1966, the year before Brown arrived in L.A.

With Jones' passing, only McCord, Grier and Brown are alive from the two Fearsome Foursomes.

Brown helped establish the model for the modern-era defensive tackle. He came to the Lions as a 300-pound rookie out of Maryland State in 1960. He was among the first big, quick athletes who played defensive tackle.

"I could run the hundred (100 yards) in 10-flat," Brown says now.

Brown has fond memories of his time with both teams. He played in memorable games with the Lions, including the 26-14 win over the Packers in a grudge rematch of a 9-7 loss earlier in the season. According to the official play-by-play of the second game, Brown was in on seven of the 11 sacks the Lions had against Packers quarterback Bart Starr.

Brown remembers Jones as one of the all-time great players – and all-time great characters.

At 6-5 and 272 pounds, he had the size and quickness to dominate in any era.

How good was he?

"Better than good," Brown said. "He was excellent. You never had to worry about Deacon holding up his side or anybody trying to run to his side. He'd catch them before they'd turn the corner.

"Deacon was kind of in a world by himself. We used to call him the ‘mood player.' You could see Deacon doing a transformation. If you were out doing a TV show, or just out doing an autograph signing, Deacon was one way. He was a fun guy.

"When it was game time, it was almost like Deacon put on a whole new persona. When he was in that zone, he had one objective – get to the quarterback, and let people know ‘here I am.'

"You knew that if there was a street fight, he'd watch your back."