The Definitive Biography of a Football Great

Review of Roy Weaver, David Sullivan, and Shawn Sriver, Running Against the Grain: The Story of
Philadelphia Eagle and Movie Star Timmy Brown, Eagle22 LLC, 2022.

In this first biography of Philadelphia Eagles star Timmy Brown (1937-2020), the authors not only tell the
engaging story of Timmy’s career as a professional athlete, singer, model and actor but also provide a
window into the tumultuous period of the Civil Rights movement, in which Timmy Brown was a pioneer
and role model for young Black men. A native of Richmond, Indiana, Timmy’s life has inspired
generations of young people. The product of a broken home, he spent his youth in a facility for
unwanted children, the Indiana Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s Home, near Knightstown, Indiana. He
went on to play football at Ball State Teachers College in Muncie, Indiana. In 2010, Stan Parrish, the
head football coach at Ball State, called Timmy the greatest football player in Ball State history. Timmy’s
lifelong connection with what became Ball State University is particularly elaborated by the authors,
each of whom is closely associated with the university. Timmy’s exceptional talents as a running back
were recognized by scouts, and he began his career as a player in the National Football League with
Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers. He spent eight seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles and his last
season with the Baltimore Colts. Highlights of his remarkable football career include returning a kickoff
return 105 yards for a touchdown, being the first to return two kickoffs for touchdowns in the same
game, and leading the NFL twice in total yardage, kick returns and return yards. He was a member of
the Eagles’ 1960 NFL Championship team and was inducted into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame. In
the year with the Baltimore Colts, he scored the last touchdown in the 1968 NFL Championship Game
and played in Super Bowl III. He was selected to participate in the Pro Bowl three times.

The biography also tells the story of how Timmy pursued careers outside professional sports. He
studied acting and, as Timothy Brown, went to Hollywood where he landed roles in major films including
MASH and Nashville. The peak of his acting career was his appearance in six episodes as a member of
the regular cast of the hit TV series based on the movie MAS*H. He appeared in more than twenty
movies and television shows. Timmy began singing as a student at Ball State and later appeared
regularly as a club singer, and dancer, and recorded five double-sided single records. After several years
of professional modeling, in which he promoted Botany 500 clothing, he devoted his later years to
helping young people as a probation officer and youth counselor in Los Angeles. He pointed out to the
troubled young men how he had risen from an orphanage to become a successful professional athlete
and a Hollywood actor.

The highly detailed biography is not a hagiography. The authors make clear that Timmy had no success
as a professional singer and only limited success as an actor. His charismatic personality and self-
confidence, however, shine through the pages, and he was able to make and keep lifelong friends,
including some of the world’s most famous people, including singers Chubby Checker, Dionne Warwick
and Diana Ross. The authors do not hesitate, however, to explore his failed marriage and difficult
relationship with many of his family members. His son and former wife’s dedication to him during his
final years of poor health is, nevertheless, a testament to his ability to form lasting attachments.
An interesting aspect of Timmy’s life described in the book is the dementia that he developed as he
aged, which could be traced to the concussions that he suffered as a professional football player, a fact
acknowledged by the NFL in a 2013 $765 million settlement over concussion-related brain injuries
among its 18,000 retired players, in which it agreed to compensate victims, pay for medical exams and
underwrite research. This fund helped pay for Timmy’s treatment and care.

The book is also a snapshot of a turning point in American history, an era in which Blacks emerged from
second-class citizenship to full legal equality. As Timmy pointed out in a 2010 visit to Ball State, when he
joined the Green Bay Packers in 1959 there was an unwritten rule that no pro football team could have
more than three Black players. The civil rights movement, however, during which Timmy achieved his
records as a running back opened the doors for people of color so that by 2023 57.5% of NFL players
were Black. One of the most revealing passages in the book about the times is when Timmy’s wife asks
him to join her in visiting her parents in South Carolina and Timmy responds that he fears being lynched
if he travels to the Deep South, a region that he has avoided. He relents, however, and in a very
touching scene described by the authors the white father-in-law, who had refused to accept that his
daughter had married a Black man and did not attend their wedding, “falls in love” with Timmy after
they spend a short time together and Timmy learns that not all Southerners are prejudiced.

The appeal of this biography is its foundation on fourteen years of original research. The authors
interviewed not only Timmy himself several times but also twenty-five people who played important
roles in his life from his childhood through his sports and entertainment careers. They also read
numerous documents, including material stored in multiple boxes in Timmy’s storage unit and condo in
California. Given the passage of time, no future biographers of football great Timmy Brown will have
personal access to those who knew him best. Running Against the Grain will remain the definitive
biography of Timmy Brown for decades to come.

— Kenneth Holland, Professor of Political Science, Ball State University (retired)