Color this Super Bowl Brown
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jan 28, 2007
By Cold, Hard Football Facts publisher Kerry J. Byrne
Super Bowl storylines are like holiday fruit cake.
There's only a couple kicking around, and the "pundits" simply re-gift them and pass 'em around from one publication to the next in the buildup to the big game.
ESPN? CBS Sportsline? Fox Sports? Your local newspaper?
They're all re-gifting this year's most popular Super Bowl fruitcake: the "two black coaches" story.
Sick of it yet? Of course you are. You don't want to get somebody else's junk. You want your own fresh, new storyline.
Fortunately, we don't play the race game here on Planet Pigskin. We judge people not by the color of their skin, but by the fact-filled content of their gridiron character. To us, there are just two kinds of people: the miserable souls who suffer reading the uninspired opinions of the "pundits" and the enlightened pigskin progressives who worship at the glorious altar of the Cold, Hard Football Facts.
The "pundits" want you to believe that "black" is the color of Super Bowl XLI. The Cold, Hard Football Facts want you to know that the color of this Super Bowl, and almost every Super Bowl that has preceded it, is Brown – as in Paul Brown.
Paul Brown died almost 16 years ago. And he never coached in the Super Bowl. But his pigskin progeny have lorded over "America's Game" nearly since its outset. They'll do so again here in Super Bowl XLI.
Think of the greatest moments in Super Bowl history ... and think of Paul Brown and his iconic old fedora.
- Remember the Jets' shocking win over the Colts in Super Bowl III? Paul Brown's fingerprints are all over the game.
- Miami's undefeated 1972 season? Give a little credit to Paul Brown.
- Pittsburgh's four Super Bowl titles of the 1970s? Oh, look, Paul Brown.
- San Francisco's dynastic "West Coast" offense? Yup, Paul Brown.
- Super Bowl XLI? Paul Brown. Paul Brown.
Notice a trend?
Students of the Paul Brown School have won 18 of 40 Super Bowls. No matter which team wins Super Bowl XLI, it will be another victory for Brown's legacy: Indy's Tony Dungy and Chicago's Lovie Smith both came up through the coaching ranks under students of the Paul Brown School.
And, if you choose to play the race game, you can think of Paul Brown, too.
After all, it was Paul Brown, the colorblind visionary, who reintegrated pro football in 1946 – a year before baseball's Jackie Robinson took the field for the Dodgers.
Who is Paul Brown?
Paul Brown is the deeply rooted trunk of modern football's most important coaching tree. You know that famous Bill Walsh coaching tree that everybody talks about? Any time you see or hear "Bill Walsh coaching tree," just think Paul Brown.
But it goes much deeper than Walsh. The 49ers legend, after all, is just one of many coaches who dominated the Super Bowl and who learned much of what they know about football from Brown.
Paul Brown is the central figure behind not just one but two NFL franchises, the Browns (which were named for him) and the Bengals. He forged pro football's greatest dynasty, as his original Cleveland Browns played in an unfathomable 10 straight pro football championship games in two different leagues from 1946 to 1955, winning seven of them. We discussed the dominance of the Browns in this piece from two years ago.
Brown was born in Ohio, the heart of the Gridiron Breadbasket, and is the most important football figure in arguably the nation's most important football state. He played and coached at Ohio's famous football power Massillon (a few miles from Canton), he played and coached at Ohio State University, and he played at Miami (Ohio) University – a school known today as "the Cradle of Coaches."
Brown himself posted a 170-108-6 record in 21 years as an NFL coach. He also went a remarkable 52-4-3 in four years coaching the Browns in the old All-America Football Conference.
But Brown was more than a wildly successful coach. He was also the definitive football teacher, at least in the post-World War II era. His disciples and their students have spread throughout the football world, spreading Paul Brown's gridiron gospel and dominating the Super Bowl.
The Paul Brown School
The Paul Brown School emphasizes game-planning, tactics and innovation, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Film study, audibles, situation substitution, radio communication with quarterbacks – they were all pioneered by Brown.
Offense was his specialty. Look behind the greatest offensive milestones of the past 60 years, and there's a good chance you'll find Paul Brown or one of his disciples in charge of the team.
- The success of the West Coast offense is well documented. It was created in large part by Brown (and fellow Ohioan Sid Gillman) and passed on to Walsh.
- Otto Graham is the only pre-1980s quarterback who ranks among the all-time Top 10 passer-rating leaders. He played for Paul Brown.
- Brett Favre won a record three straight NFL MVP awards playing for a student of the Paul Brown School (Mike Holmgren).
- Dan Marino set every passing mark known to man. He played for a Paul Brown disciple (Don Shula).
- The Vikings set the NFL scoring mark in 1998 (556 points). They were led by a student of the Paul Brown School (Dennis Green).
- Steve Young owns the all-time career passer-rating record. He played for a pair of Paul Brown disciples (Walsh, George Seifert).
- Peyton Manning stands to shatter every passing record in the books. He plays for a student of the Paul Brown School (Dungy).
But the spectacular offensive success is not limited to the passing game. The greatest ground attacks in NFL history bear Paul Brown's stamp as well.
- Jim Brown is the greatest running back in NFL history, with a record average of 5.2 yards every time he carried the ball. He played for Paul Brown.
- The 1963 Browns as a team averaged a record 5.7 YPA. They were led by a Paul Brown disciple (Blanton Collier).
- The Dolphins forged a pair of Super Bowl championships in the 1970s behind a punishing ground attack (they attempted a total of 18 passes in their two Super Bowl victories), while the 1972 Dolphins were the first team to field two 1,000-yard ballcarriers in the same backfield. They were led by a Paul Brown disciple (Shula).
- The 1976 Steelers duplicated the two 1,000-yard-ballcarrier feat. They were led by a Paul Brown disciple (Chuck Noll).
- The Broncos of the past 10 years have consistently fielded one of the most devastating ground attacks in NFL history. They're led by a student of the Paul Brown School (Mike Shanahan).
The offensive milestones are impressive. But not as impressive as this: More so than any other individual, Paul Brown has shaped the men who have dominated the biggest sporting event in the nation.
Here's a look at the students of the Paul Brown School who have combined to win 18 of 40 Super Bowls, and a look at the two Paul Brown descendants who will vie for the Super Bowl championship on Sunday. One way or another, it will be the 19th Super Bowl championship we can attribute to the Paul Brown School.
Weeb Ewbank, Jets (won Super Bowl III)
Ewbank won perhaps the two most famous games in NFL history: He was the coach of the Colts when they beat the Giants in overtime of the 1958 NFL title game, since dubbed the "Greatest Game Ever Played"; he was also the head coach of the Jets when they shocked his former team, the Colts, in Super Bowl III. He's the only coach to win championships with two different teams. He played football with Brown at Miami (Ohio) University, the "Cradle of Coaches," and then served as an assistant under Brown at World War II-era college football power Great Lakes Naval Station and with the Cleveland Browns.
Don McCafferty, Colts (won Super Bowl V)
McCafferty took over the Colts in 1970 when another Brown disciple, Don Shula, left to coach the upstart Dolphins. It was under his leadership that the Colts finally won the championship denied them by Ewbank and the Jets two years earlier. He played football at Ohio State when Brown was the head coach of the Buckeyes, and later served as an assistant with the Baltimore Colts under Brown disciples Ewbank and Shula.
Don Shula, Dolphins (won Super Bowls VII, VIII)
Shula was famously on the losing end of Super Bowl III, a game that pitted two of Brown's prized students (that 1968 Colts team has since been named the greatest team never to win a Super Bowl). Shula played for Cleveland under Brown and worked as an assistant for Brown disciple Blanton Collier at the University of Kentucky. (Collier took over the Browns after Paul Brown was fired in 1962, and won an NFL title in 1964.) Shula was also an assistant to Ewbank with the Baltimore Colts. Like many early Brown disciples, Shula grew up in Ohio, the center of the Gridiron Breadbasket and a state where football was (and is) dominated by Brown's presence.
Chuck Noll, Steelers (won Super Bowls IX, X, XIII, XIV)
The architect of the great Pittsburgh dynasty of the 1970s grew up in Paul Brown Country in Cleveland, Ohio. He spent his entire seven-year pro career playing for Brown and his hometown Browns. He served as an assistant under Shula in Baltimore and served as an assistant under Brown contemporary and fellow offensive mastermind Sid Gillman with the San Diego Chargers.
Bill Walsh, 49ers (won Super Bowls XVI, XIX, XXIII)
Walsh is best known as the architect of the "West Coast" offense, but he has often said that it should have been called the "Cincinnati" offense. The famous passing attack had its origins under Gillman and Brown at Ohio State in the 1930s and 40s. (The careers of Gillman and Brown crisscrossed throughout there lives. Both were from Ohio and were central figures in the development of football throughout the state.)
Walsh had studied the offense's precepts as an assistant with Gillman at the University of Cincinnati, and then under Brown as an assistant with the Cincinnati Bengals for seven years (1968-74). He famously modernized the "Cincinnati" offense with numerous assistants in San Francisco, where it became known as the "West Coast" offense.
The offense garnered all the attention, but (like Shula and Noll before him) Walsh's defenses continually ranked among the best in the league from his first Super Bowl championship in 1981 to his last in 1988.
George Seifert, 49ers (won Super Bowls XXIV, XXIX)
Seifert was the first member of the Bill Walsh tree to have success as a head coach. He served as an assistant to Walsh from 1980 to 1988. He replaced Walsh as San Francisco's head coach in 1989 and immediately led the 49ers to a Super Bowl title. He won another title in 1994. Steve Young became the highest-rated passer in NFL history playing for Seifert.
Mike Holmgren, Packers (won Super Bowl XXXI)
Holmgren learned the West Coast offense as an assistant to Walsh and Seifert in San Francisco from 1986 to 1991, and helped the 49ers win consecutive Super Bowls in 1988 and 1989. He then installed the San Francisco-style offense with great success as the head coach in Green Bay, helping Packers quarterback Brett Favre win three straight NFL MVP awards in the mid 1990s while making two straight Super Bowl appearances. He also led Seattle to Super Bowl XL, where his Seahawks lost to Pittsburgh.
Mike Shanahan, Broncos (won Super Bowls XXXII, XXXIII)
We don't want to overstate Shanahan's time spent under the Paul Brown system, but his offense in Denver was inspired by the three years he spent as offensive coordinator in San Francisco (1992-94). It is, to many, a run-oriented version of the West Coast offense, and, arguably, the most consistently successful ground attack in NFL history. Shanahan has continued to use, for example, the Bill Walsh practice of scripting offensive plays.
Brian Billick, Ravens (won Super Bowl XXXIV)
Brian Billick is another in the long line of champion NFL coaches from the Gridiron Breadbasket of Ohio. He got his first big-time coaching experience at Stanford, as the offensive coordinator under Bill Walsh protégé Dennis Green (Green coached under Walsh at Stanford and with the 49ers). Billick-Green teamed up again as offensive coordinator-head coach with the Minnesota Vikings in the 1990s. Their 1998 squad set the all-time NFL scoring record (556 points). Billick's Ravens won Super Bowl XXXIV. But much of the credit goes to a defense that set a Live Ball Era (1978-present) standard by surrendering just 165 points.
Jon Gruden, Buccaneers (won Super Bowl XXXVII)
Gruden is another coach from the Paul Brown tree who was born in the Gridiron Breadbasket of Ohio. He spent his early NFL years learning the West Coast offense as an assistant to Seifert in San Francisco and then to Holmgren in Green Bay.
In the fashion typical of the Paul Brown School, Gruden is known as an offensive mind, but it was his No. 1-ranked scoring defense which led his Buccaneers to a Super Bowl championship in the 2002 season.
Dungy played in the NFL under two of Paul Brown's most famous students, Chuck Noll in Pittsburgh (1977-78) and Bill Walsh in San Francisco (1979). It was Noll who gave Dungy his first NFL coaching job, as an assistant with the Steelers in 1981. He stayed in the Pittsburgh organization until 1989.
NFL analyst and former Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason said in a recent interview that Indy's offense reminds him of the offense he ran under Sam Wyche in Cincinnati. That should come as no surprise: Wyche played quarterback for Paul Brown with the Bengals from 1968-70 and was later an assistant under Bill Walsh in San Francisco, where his job was to direct Joe Montana and the 49ers passing game. It was Paul Brown, then the president of the Bengals organization, who gave Wyche his first head-coaching job in Cincinnati in 1984.
Dungy came to the Colts with a reputation as a defensive mastermind. But under his leadership, Peyton Manning has had some of the most prolific passing seasons of any quarterback in NFL history.
There are several degrees of separation between Brown and Smith. The Chicago coach did spend time as an assistant at the University of Kentucky and Ohio State, two programs in which Brown or Brown disciples have had a profound impact. But, more specifically, he was given his first NFL job by Dungy, a student of the Brown School, in Tampa Bay. There, the two coaches continued the Brown tradition of innovation: This time, the innovation is most notable on the defensive side of the ball, where Dungy and Smith were the primary architects of the Tampa-2 defense. It's success has been obvious: Smith's Bears fielded the No. 1 scoring defense in football last year and the No. 3 scoring defense this year. (Dungy's Colts ranked No. 2 in scoring defense last year.)
This year, either Smith or Dungy will walk off the field in Miami with the Super Bowl title in tow.
The superficial "pundits" will try to tell you otherwise, but no matter who wins on Sunday, the color of Super Bowl success will remain a familiar one: Brown.
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