Longhorn Hall of Honor: James Brown
Nov. 19, 2009
Grant Abston, Texas Media Relations
At The University of Texas, quarterback James Brown had a knack for making big plays.
Under his leadership, Texas re-established a tradition that embodied what the quarterback best represents -- winning.
Brown arrived at Texas in 1994, and the Longhorns ended the previous season with no national ranking. However, the Longhorns -- searching for their first Southwest Conference Championship since 1990 -- had recruited a quarterback from Beaumont, Texas, who would quickly turn the program around.
Brown got his first start against No. 16 Oklahoma in the fifth game of the 1994 season. Brown finished with 199 total yards and two touchdowns, leading the 15th-ranked Longhorns to a 17-10 win and setting the scene for what would become a stellar career.
"We won a lot of games, we won three conference championships and we won the first Big 12 Championship," Brown said about his four-year career. "I just tried to be an advocate, a positive role model off the field when I was there, and even after I left."
In Brown's second season as starter, the program became a national figure in the Southwest Conference's final season. The Longhorns went 10-2-1, winning the SWC Championship after going undefeated in conference play, and Brown was named the conference's Offensive Player of the Year.
While the Texas Football program was on the rise, it faced new challenges in the Big 12 Conference's inaugural season in 1996. Texas began the season with four losses in its first seven games. However, Texas won four straight games to reach the Big 12 Championship game against Nebraska, and Brown would give fans a play to remember for the ages, forever remembered as, simply, "Roll Left."
Nebraska entered the Big 12 Championship as the No. 3 team in the nation, having won the past two National Championships and 35 of its past 36 games. Texas was 7-4, unranked and looking to salvage a season that had started with high expectations.
Clinging to a 30-27 lead late in the fourth quarter, the Longhorns faced fourth-and-inches on their own 28-yard line. Mackovic decided to go for it, and called for Brown to roll out and run for the first down. As Brown rolled left, he saw tight end Derek Lewis wide open and decided to make the throw.
Lewis caught the pass and ran 61 yards down to Nebraska's 11-yard line to set up the game-clinching touchdown and give Texas the first-ever Big 12 Championship.
But for Brown, the most memorable win of his career had come a year earlier.
"The (Texas) A&M game in 1995," Brown said of his most memorable game. "I had a severely sprained ankle and A&M hadn't lost at home in years. I wasn't even 100 percent. I was 20 percent and my ankle was killing me."
The final SWC game for either team, the outcome would decide the 81st and final SWC champion. The 16th-ranked Aggies entered the game with the top-ranked defense in the nation, and the nation's longest home-winning streak at 31 games. Texas had not defeated the Aggies since 1990 and had not won in College Station since 1983, but a hobbled Brown was determined to change that.
The Texas defense limited the Aggies to just two field goals and Brown threw for 147 yards to lead the Longhorns to a 16-6 win as Texas finished atop the SWC for the second straight year.
"It wasn't about my ankle, it was about our team beating Texas A&M," Brown said. "I didn't even think about it at the time. I was just like, `I want to play.' I put pain and myself aside for The University and for the team."
Brown finished his career holding 30 school records, including career marks for touchdown passes (53), passing yards (7,638) and total offense (8,049). Although defined largely by big plays and memorable wins, Brown's career set the tone for future teams as he finished with a 25-13-1 record.
"I just tried to stay out of trouble and I was in school so I tried to get my degree and keep things moving in a positive fashion and be a leader for my team," Brown said. "I'm not a vocal leader. I think I was more of a leader by example."
The leadership Brown developed at Texas is now being used at another Texas university. Brown is the quarterbacks coach at Division I-AA Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. Unlike his coaches at Texas, Brown is in the process of restarting a football program that hasn't seen action in 20 years.
"We had to order everything, from the pylons to the shoulder pads to the helmets," Brown said. "We're involved in the total process of this whole program being rebuilt."
Brown has recalled things he learned from his coaches at Texas and incorporated them into his own methods. But for Brown, one coach stands out.
"I always liked Cleve Bryant," said Brown who played for Bryant, a wide receiver coach for Texas from 1992-94 and now UT's Associate Athletic Director of football operations. "I just like the way he handled (and) acted with the players when he was a coach."
Despite not playing in the NFL, Brown continued playing football after college, making brief stints in several professional football leagues. Even though his playing career has ended, Brown hasn't strayed far from the football field and has found his way back on the sidelines.
"I just try to be these kids' friend and role model for them," Brown said.