Syracuse Football Top 25 Players of All-Time: No. 1 Jim Brown

Syracuse football, Jim Brown
Syracuse football, Jim Brown /

Syracuse Football has had a long history of success and multiple amazing athletes. Finishing out our Syracuse Top 25 Players of All-Time list: No. 1: Jim Brown.

Syracuse Football has been around for over a century, starting its football program in 1889, according to Since that time, it has been one of the few privileged universities to be able to see both the best and worst of what the sport has to offer. At its peak, Syracuse football was the running back school of America bringing in the likes of Jim Nance, Joe Morris, Floyd Little, Ernie Davis, Larry Csonka, and many others. The program’s deepest valley might be most of the 21st century with the program barely contending in the ACC and finishing with horrible overall records.

However, despite the bad times, there has been a lot of success due to the amazing athletes Syracuse University has welcomed into the Orange family. The greatest of these by most fans’ standards as well as my own is none other than the legendary Jim Brown.

Considered by many to be the best football player of all-time both in college as well as in the NFL, Jim Brown truly lives up to that billing. Though many outside of Central New York will only remember his one-of-a-kind NFL career, his career at Syracuse was just as incredible.

As most Orange fans will know, Jim Brown is famous for wearing the #44 jersey while at Syracuse. Though he was not the first football player at Syracuse to wear the number, Brown’s on-field performance made it legendary. He set the bar high and paved the way for the likes of Ernie Davis, Floyd Little, Joe Morris and so many others to follow in his footsteps at Syracuse. It was because of Brown that Syracuse became the premiere school for some of the best running backs in the nation during the 1960 and 1970s. Though he never led the Orangemen to an undefeated season, a national championship, and didn’t ever win a Heisman trophy, his actions on and off the field made him a once in a generation type player.

What most people don’t know about Jim Brown is that he wasn’t just good at football. In fact, in his time at Syracuse University, he earned 10 varsity letters in four different sports: basketball, football, lacrosse, and track! In 1954 & 1955 Brown played basketball for the Orangemen, according to As a 6’2 guard, 212 pounds, he scored 15.0 points per game his sophomore year and 11.3 points per game his junior year. Unfortunately, due to the racial times Brown lived in, he did not join the basketball team his senior year due to an unwritten rule at Syracuse that prohibited starting three black athletes in basketball. Since Vinnie Cohen and Manny Breland were already on the team, he decided to forgo being on the team.

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In track, he did participate occasionally. It is noted that he did finish 5th in the decathlon at a National AAU meet, according to In lacrosse, he was the best player on the team, and many consider him among the greatest lacrosse players of all-time. He was named to the All-American team twice, and in his senior season led the Orangemen to an undefeated 10-0 season and a lacrosse national championship. He played so well in that championship game that the league changed the rules of lacrosse so that players must keep their stick in constant motion while carrying the ball. As a result of his excellent play, Brown would be inducted into the Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1984.

In terms of football, Brown started his Syracuse football career as a sophomore in 1954. He would serve as Syracuse’s halfback (running back) and placekicker. In that first year, he had 75 carries for 439 yards (5.9-yard avg.), four rushing touchdowns, one reception for 20 yards, two PATs, and three interceptions (which led the team), according to

In his junior year in 1955, Brown did a bit better: 128 carries for 666 yards (5.2-yard avg.) seven rushing touchdowns, 13 PAT’s, and five receptions for 44 yards (8.8 average) and one touchdown, according to He also finished second on the team with two interceptions.

Brown’s last season on the Hill in 1956, Brown had his best season in Orange: rushing 158 times for 986 yards (6.2 average) and 13 touchdowns, to pair with five receptions for 56 yards (11.2 average) and one touchdown. He also finished second on the team with three interceptions. He also would score six touchdowns (an SU single-game record that still stands today) and hit seven PAT’s against Colgate to score a college record of 43 total points that would stand for over 40 years!

That senior year he would rank third nationally in rushing yards per game, finished 5th nationally in the Heisman voting, and be named a unanimous All-American. He would lead the Orange in a close loss to TCU in the Cotton Bowl at years end, 28-27, with 22 carries for 132 yards while scoring 21 of Syracuse’s 27 points in the game, according to

Brown would finish his career on the Hill with multiple Syracuse Football records (all stats courtesy of

  • Seven 100-yard rushing games– 1956 (T-1st)
  • Six total touchdowns against Colgate– 1956 (1st)
  • 5.79 yard per carry- Career (2nd)
  • 123.3 yards per game- 1956 (2nd)
  • 87.1 rushing yards per game- Career (3rd)
  • 6.24 yard per carry- 1956 (5th)
  • 13 rushing touchdowns- 1956 (5th)
  • 12.9 yards per carry against Boston University- 1955 (5th)
  • 11-100 yard games- Career (7th)
  • 23 career rushing touchdowns (9th)

After his senior season at Syracuse, Jim Brown was selected with the 3rd overall pick in the first round of the 1957 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns, according to In his first year in the NFL, Brown immediately made an impact rushing 202 times for 942 yards (4.7 average) and nine touchdowns to pair with 16 receptions for 55 yards (4.6 average) and one touchdown. That performance led him to earn NFL Rookie of the Year honors.

Brown would continue playing another eight seasons amassing some amazing statistics. He rushed the ball 2,359 times for 12,312 yards (5.2-yard avg.) and106 touchdowns, according to He also had 262 receptions for 2,499 yards (9.5-yard avg.) and 20 touchdowns. In addition, he also returned 29 kick returns for 648 yards (22.3 avg).

When he retired in 1965, his 15,459 all-purpose yards ranked first in NFL history, and put him in a class all by himself until Tony Dorsett and Walter Peyton showed up over 10 years later and shattered the record. Today that mark still ranks 30th All-Time. His 104.3 yards rushing per game ranks first in NFL history and is the only running back in NFL history to average over 100 yards rushing per game!

Brown played only nine years in the NFL but could have played so many more. He retired at the peak of his career at age 30 in 1965 to pursue an acting career. Many experts have speculated how amazing his career stats could have been, had he kept playing. As it was, in nine years, he was a unanimous All-NFL/Pro pick eight times (1957-1961, 1963-1965) was selected to nine straight Pro Bowls (every year he played in the NFL), was a four-time NFL MVP (1957, 1958, 1963, and 1965) and led the NFL in rushing eight of the nine years he played! In addition, he never missed a game his entire NFL career and helped the Browns win an NFL championship in 1964. Brown literally did it all!

Brown was later inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1995, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971. As previously mentioned he was inducted into the Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1984 as well, making him the only player in history to be inducted into all three Hall Of Fames. Other notable honors include: Syracuse All-Century team (1999), being ranked No. 1 overall and named the Greatest College Football Player of All-Time according to, and named No.2 behind Jerry Rice on NFL’s Top 100 Players of All-Time.

Another thing to keep in mind with all this is that Brown never played a full 16 game season like NFL players do today. The first four seasons in the NFL he played a 12 game season, and the last five seasons of his career he played a 14 game schedule, according to the Bleacher Report. As a reminder, he only played nine seasons and retired at the peak of his career, age 30, playing only 118 career games- without missing one. Yet, despite that, he still accomplished incredible rushing and receiving statistics during those seasons.

If you’re still not convinced Jim Brown was the undisputed greatest football player of all-time, check out these stats below comparing Brown with legends Walter Payton, Gale Sayers, Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, and LaDainian Tomlinson (all stats below are courtesy of the Bleacher Report):

  • As mentioned previously, his 104.3 rushing yards per game ranks first in NFL history, and is the only running back in NFL history to average over 100 yards rushing per game. That is one statistic none of the players above can claim.
  • Brown reached the 100 touchdown milestone in 93 games, the only player to do it in fewer games was Tomlinson with 89.
  • Brown is the only player to lead the NFL in all-purpose yards five times.
  • Brown was selected eight times to be a first-team All-Pro, which is at least two more than any of the star running backs had listed above.
  • Brown finished his career with 5.2 yards per carry, and thus is the only running back in NFL history to average that high while rushing for over 2,000 yards for their career.
  • Brown’s 9.5 yards per reception ranks second among all the players listed above, only behind Gale Sayers who had 11.7 yards per reception.

The statistics above don’t even include the fact that Brown won the AP MVP award three times! That puts him in third place all-time tied with Tom Brady, Johnny Unitas, and Brett Favre. Some publications gave Brown an MVP award his rookie season in 1957 as well, pushing his MVP award record to four. That would place him in second place in NFL history, all by himself. The only person with more MVP awards would be Peyton Manning who won the award five times.

Next. SU Football: Jim Brown receives GOAT crown from ESPN. dark

Brown clearly is in a class all by himself. Sure, one could argue Tom Brady is the GOAT when all is said and done, and you’re probably not wrong. However, Brown has to be considered the best running back in NFL history. He not only outplayed players in his own generation, but also many in the newer generation who played more games and for a longer period of time. His career both at Syracuse and in the NFL with the Cleveland Browns is one of kind, and it’s no surprise he sits atop this list of the top Syracuse Football players of All-Time. There may never be another athlete to attend Syracuse University quite like Jim Brown.

Well, that wraps up our list of the Top 25 Syracuse Football Players of All-Time. Stay tuned for the complete list of all Top 25 Players we have covered as well as some honorable mentions. As always, stick with Inside the Loud House for all things Syracuse Football. Let’s Go Orange!