Pro Football’s “Dirtiest Player”
That is not really a moniker that one would want to be attached to, but from 1948 through 1960 it was commonly used in reference to Hardy Brown.
Sometimes observers varied and said he was the toughest player in pro football, but “toughest” and “dirtiest” were pretty much lumped together.
Hardy Brown ended his career with the Denver Broncos in the 1960 inaugural season, playing defensive back and linebacker with his 6-0, 193-pound frame.
Before coming to Denver Brown had moved around a lot, earning his nickname of “thumper” at every stop.
He started out with Brooklyn in the All American Football Conference (a pro league, which was where the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers began) in 1948, and played for Chicago in the AAFC in 1949.
His playing tactics were a little on the rough side, to say the least, so he then moved (and was moved) from Chicago to Washington and Baltimore in 1950, to San Francisco for the 1951-55 seasons, by far his longest tenure with one team, and then on to the Chicago Cardinals in 1956 before finishing up with the 1960 striped socks Broncos.
But Hardy Brown had some tough early years, and generally speaking he made people pay for them on the football field.
Born in the small town of Quanah, Texas, he was raised in an orphanage, and that’s where he learned his football.
The Masonic Home School in Fort Worth was the name of the institution, and although Brown said (I was by no means the toughest guy on my high school team,” it was a tackling tactic that he picked up at the school which he refined and made famous (infamous, really) that gave him his dubious reputation.
The players at Masonic Home developed a tackling style involving throwing one’s body at the ball carrier and connecting with the tackler’s shoulder on the victim’s chin. If the contact was perfect, the collision was awful.
A lot of players at Masonic Home used that style, but they were not as talented as Brown, so the combination of his ability and the pure viciousness of attack gave him a scholarship to Southern Methodist, before he finished up at the University of Tulsa.
As he began his pro career Brown added his own special touch to the technique, having a thin layer of steel attached to his shoulder pads. While they gave Brown a bit more weight to carry around, that was nothing compared to the chaos that he began to create roaming the secondaries of the AAFC, NFL, and finally the AFL. I have watched a lot of old film of Hardy Brown, and I can verify that there were any number of collisions in which his victims dropped like rocks.
Particularly in that at the start of his career players still were not wearing facemasks.
One final Bronco connection: the great, late Fred Gehrke, who as general manager of the Broncos crafted the roster for the team’s first Super Bowl appearance in 1977, played for the Los Angeles Rams against those teams on which Brown was launching his human rockets.
Fred was a very tough guy himself, tough enough that his own nickname was “Leather.”
I once asked Fred about playing against Brown, and he paused for a few seconds, then calmly said, “Hardy Brown. He wasn’t so tough.”
Tough guys from a tough era in pro football.