Former Oakland Raiders Pro Hall of Fame cornerback Willie Brown died at 78, team owner Mark Davis confirmed Tuesday.
“The entire Hall of Fame family mourns the loss of a great man,” Hall of Fame president and CEO David Baker said Tuesday in a release. “Willie Brown was the epitome of the Raiders’ motto of ‘commitment to excellence’ that was integral to the team’s sustained success. He embodied virtues like passion, integrity, perseverance and always led by example. His character, on and off the field, made all those around him better. His legacy will be preserved forever in Canton, Ohio to inspire generations of fans.”
No cause of death was revealed. He had been dealing with cancer.
The catalyst of one of the iconic images of the early years of the Super Bowl era, Brown played 16 seasons in the NFL from 1963-78, the latter 12 of which were with the Raiders after spending the first four with the Broncos. Brown intercepted 54 passes in 204 career games and also scored two touchdowns.
But it was a postseason score for which he is best known. In Super Bowl XI, Brown intercepted a pass from Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton in the fourth quarter and returned the ball 75 yards for the score. The play helped Oakland clinch a 32-14 victory in the game, and announcer Bill King’s call of “Old Man Willie” sealed a signature moment for the veteran, who was in his 15th season in the league.
Brown was a nine-time Pro Bowl selection and a five-time all-pro. He was inducted in the Hall of Fame in the class of 1984.
In his 12 seasons in Oakland, Brown helped the Raiders play in three AFL championship games, six AFC Championship Games and two Super Bowls.
Brown was undrafted but signed with the Houston Oilers as a free agent. He was cut before the end of training camp in 1963.
“My job was not catching passes,” Brown was quoted as once saying. “My job was to stop the receiver from catching it. If I could have played 15 or 20 years without an interception, that would have been fine. Anything beyond stopping a receiver, that’s gravy.”
Brown played at Grambling and was inducted in the Black College Football Hall of Fame in 2012. He also served as the Raiders’ defensive backs coach from 1979-88.
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