You are Dave Meggyesy, a second-year linebacker in 1964 for the NFL’s St. Louis Cardinals. You are six feet, two inches, and weigh 215 pounds. You make $9,500 a year. In the off-season, like a couple of your teammates, you work in a quarry, breaking rocks to make ends meet. This week, you are playing the Cleveland Browns. That means Jim Brown. That means a guy who ran for more than 1,800 yards last year. These are the days before film study, highlight packages, and even color television. That means you’ve heard the stories about Jim Brown—hell, you even went to Syracuse, as he did, where you heard all kinds of stories—but you’ve never seen him in the flesh and on the field. You are starting to think his on-field exploits are just whispered ghost stories aimed at scaring young linebackers. You know that he outweighs you by fifteen pounds, but whatever. You’re an NFL linebacker. That means you bring the pain, no one brings it to you. Then Jim Brown takes the field and you have to make an effort not to gasp. It’s not the size of Brown but the proportions. He’s as skinny as a wide receiver in the waist, with all of those 230 pounds in his shoulders and thighs. “He’s just a man,” you tell yourself. “Just a man.” On the first series, Cleveland quarterback Frank Ryan pitches the ball to Brown, who plants his foot and cuts it inside.
You see it happening as if in slow motion. You are ready. You slip the tight end and mirror his cut inside to meet Jim Brown head-on, and you hit him. You don’t just hit him—you really hit him. You put your head down and aim for the center mass, right in between the 3 and the 2 on his chest. Then you black out. When you open your eyes, your vision has narrowed for some reason. Everything is round and you have no peripheral vision. You can’t breathe out of your nose. Disorientation reigns. What the hell just happened? Then you realize: you are looking out the earhole of your helmet, your nose all mushed up against the side of the damn thing. Later, when describing Jim Brown, you can only smile and shrug and say, “He didn’t run over me. He ran through me.”