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The Ultimate Brown: A timeline of Jim Brown's life

From a rookie season that stands as perhaps the greatest in NFL history, to his post-football life as a civil rights activists and actor, here are the biggest events and achievements of Jim Brown’s life


Jim Brown passed away Thursday at the age of 87, concluding one of the most remarkable careers of any player in NFL history and one of the greatest lives of any professional athlete.

Brown's life and legacy went well beyond the gridiron, as he pursued his civic passions and starred in numerous movies and TV shows from the 1960s all the way to the 2000s. 

This is the timeline of Jim Brown's life.

February 17, 1936 - James Nathaniel Brown is born to Swinton Brown, the son of a professional boxer, and Theresa, a homemaker, in St. Simon's Island, Georgia. He went on to become a five-sport athlete at Manhasset Secondary School, playing football, lacrosse, baseball, basketball and track.

Nov. 17, 1956 - In the penultimate game of his decorated career at Syracuse University, Brown accounts for 43 of the Orange's 61 points in a rout of Colgate. The four-sport athlete (football, basketball, track and lacrosse) ran for 197 yards and six touchdowns and kicked seven extra points. The NCAA record of points scored by a single player stood for 34 years.

Nov. 26, 1956 - The Browns select Brown with the sixth pick in the 1957 NFL Draft. He's one of four future Hall of Famers to be selected in the first eight picks, joining Paul Hornung, Len Dawson and Jim Parker.

Sept. 29, 1957 - In his Browns debut, Brown rushes for a game-high 89 yards, 31 coming on Cleveland's game-winning drive, in a 6-3 win over the defending world champion New York Giants.

Nov. 24, 1957 - Brown rushes for an NFL-record 237 yards and four touchdowns in Cleveland's 45-31 victory over the Los Angeles Rams in a game that was played in front of the Browns' largest home crowd in four years.

Dec. 29, 1957 - Brown's rookie season comes to a close with 69 yards and a touchdown in Cleveland's 59-14 loss to Detroit in the 1957 NFL Championship. He finished the season with a league-best 942 yards and nine touchdowns and earned Rookie of the Year and MVP honors from the AP and Sporting News. He also made his first of nine Pro Bowls in his nine-year NFL career.

Dec. 14, 1958 - Brown scores his 17th and final rushing touchdown of his second season on a 65-yard run against the New York Giants. Brown's 17 rushing touchdowns — a figure he'd match in 1965 — were the most he'd compile in a single season during his nine-year career. His average of 127.3 rushing yards per game was the second-best of his career.

Nov. 1, 1959 - Brown rushes for 178 yards and five touchdowns, overshadowing Johnny Unitas — who threw for 397 yards and four touchdowns — in a 38-31 victory over the defending champion Baltimore Colts. Brown finished with his third rushing title in as many seasons, running for 1,329 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Nov. 13, 1960 - Brown regains the league lead in rushing with a season-high 173 yards and two touchdowns in Cleveland's 28-27 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. Brown won his fourth straight rushing title — clearing 100 yards in the final four games of the season — with 1,257 yards and nine touchdowns.

Dec. 10, 1961 - Brown takes a short pass from Milt Plum and dodges countless tackles on his way to a 77-yard touchdown, a play that is considered by many to be the best of his career. He won yet another rushing title this season with 1,408 yards and eight touchdowns.

Nov. 25, 1962 - Brown rushes for 110 yards and two touchdowns and adds five receptions for 56 yards and a score in Cleveland's 35-14 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Though Brown did not win the league rushing title, he finished with the team lead in receptions (47) to go along with 996 rushing yards and a combined 18 touchdowns.

Sept. 15, 1963 - Under new head coach Blanton Collier, Brown opens the 1963 season with an 83-yard touchdown reception and an 80-yard touchdown run in Cleveland's 37-14 rout of the Washington Redskins. Brown finished the season with a career-best 1,863 rushing yards and won his third MVP honor.

1964 - Brown, in the midst of his eighth NFL season, makes his big-screen debut in the western "Rio Conchos." Brown plays the role of Sgt. Ben Franklyn. "It's a long ways from a football field to a movie studio, but it's wonderful what can be accomplished with a talented team behind you," Brown said in a promotional advertisement for the movie.

Dec. 27, 1964 - Brown rushes for a game-high 114 yards and catches three passes for 37 yards in Cleveland's 27-0 win over the Baltimore Colts in the 1964 NFL Championship. The NFL title was the Browns' fourth in franchise history and first since 1955.

1965 - Brown founds the Negro Industrial and Economic Union, an organization that would later be known as the Black Economic Union. The goal of the organization was to help and guide black entrepreneurs.

Jan. 2, 1966 - In what would be his final game with the Browns, Brown finishes his third MVP season by running for 50 yards on 12 carries in the Browns' 23-12 loss to the Green Bay Packers in the 1965 NFL Championship. In 118 games, Brown rushed for 12,312 yards and 106 touchdowns and added 2,499 yards and 20 touchdowns as a receiver. His career average of 104.3 rushing yards per game stands today as an NFL record.

July 13, 1966 - At the age of 30, Brown announces his retirement from football. He notified owner Art Modell of the decision with a letter and a long-distance phone call from London, where he was acting in the movie, "The Dirty Dozen."

1967 - After Brown phoned Art Modell from the set in London to inform the Browns owner he'd be retiring, "The Dirty Dozen" is released to critical acclaim. The movie was the fifth-highest grossing movie of 1967, received four Academy Award nominations and was ranked No. 65 on the American Film Institute's "100 Years … 100 Thrills" list.

June 4, 1967 - Brown and a who's who list of African-American athletes at the time gather inside the Black Economic Union's Cleveland offices to interview boxer Muhammad Ali and decide whether or not to support his stand against being inducted into the U.S. Military in the midst of the Vietnam War. Former Brown John Wooten, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bobby Mitchell were among those in attendance. Ultimately, the group decided to support Ali.

July 31, 1971 - Brown is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame with a class that includes Vince Lombardi and Y.A. Tittle.

1972 - Brown stars in his first of a handful of African-American films, "Slaughter." The movie's tagline: "It's not only his name, it's his business and sometimes — his pleasure." One year later, "Slaughter's Big Rip-Off" is released.

1979 - Brown makes his first of a number of cameos on popular TV shows. He appeared three times on "CHIPs" and also saw time on Knight Rider, T.J. Hooker, Cover Up and The A-Team.

1987 - Brown plays Fireball, a villian in the movie "The Running Man," which starred Arnold Schwarzenegger.

1988 - Brown is Slammer in "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka," an action-comedy parody of the blaxploitation movies in which Brown starred just a decade earlier.

1988 - Brown founds Amer-I-Can, an organization that helps gang members and other at-risk youths "meet their academic potential, conform their behavior to acceptable society standards, and improve the quality of their lives by equipping them with the critical life management skills to confidently and successfully contribute to society."

1992 - Amer-I-Can initiates a truce between rival gangs in the Los Angeles area.

1993 - The Amer-I-Can Foundation for Social Change is incorporated as a non-profit organization with the goal of expanding its services to communities and individuals that would otherwise be unavailable because of financial hardship.

1993 - Brown serves as a color commentator on the first-ever Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-view event.

2001 - Brown, along with 17 other former Browns, are named Cleveland Browns Legends in the inaugural year of the program's existence.

2011- At the age of 75, Brown appears on MSNBC to promote and explain Amer-I-Can's role in aiding black youths who grow up without a father figure.

May 29, 2013 - Owner Jimmy Haslam brings Brown back to the Browns as a special advisor.

2014 - Brown appears as himself in "Draft Day," which was partially filmed in the Browns facility in Berea.

Feb. 9, 2023 - The NFL names its rushing title "The Jim Brown Award" in Brown's honor.

May 18, 2023 - Brown passes away, leaving behind a life and legacy that will forever remain unmatched among professional athletes.

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