Tudor: Undersized Ted Brown changed Holtz’ mind fast

ctudor@newsobserver.comOctober 1, 2012 

Back when college coaches didn’t patronize high school prospects during the recruiting process, Lou Holtz came close to scaring away a player who would become the best running back in ACC football history.

Ted Brown remembers that home visit from the former N.C. State coach “like it was yesterday.”

“Just about the first thing he told us was he didn’t like to play freshmen under any circumstances and I could expect to spend my first year just practicing and watching if I went to State,” Brown said. “That was the last thing I wanted to hear.”

Fortunately for the Wolfpack, Brown didn’t have another ACC offer even though he was a prolific ground-gainer for High Point’s Andrews High School’s powerful teams of the early ’70s.

“I’d heard from ECU and Appalachian and few others but nothing from the ACC or the SEC,” Brown said. “I said, ‘Well I guess it’s got to be State, and I’ll just have to change Coach Holtz’ philosophy about freshmen.’ ”

That process took four games into the 1975 season, the fourth and final of Holtz’ successful stint in Raleigh. With the Wolfpack 2-2 after a 37-15 loss at Michigan State, Brown was told to get ready to play in the ensuing game against Indiana.

“Lou said if he was going to lose, he might as well lose with a freshman,” Brown said. “I knew it was going to be my big chance.”

Undersized at 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds, Brown responded to that big chance with a big day — rushing for more than 100 yards in a 27-0 win that ignited a 7-4-1 record and fourth straight bowl appearance.

It was hardly a surprise when Brown, now 55 and residing in Minnesota, was among those selected for the inaugural Wolfpack sports hall of fame.

By the time the Vikings selected Brown as the No. 16 overall pick in the 1979 NFL draft, he had rushed for 4,602 yards, 51 touchdowns and caught 82 passes for the Wolfpack — totals that don’t include 399 more rushing yards in three bowl games.

Brown’s record still stands as the top career rushing mark in ACC history even though schedules have been increased and the rules have become more friendly to offenses.

Packing for Pirates

A couple of weeks before Holtz turned to Brown in that eventful 1975 season, Brown came very close to transferring to ECU.

“It was crazy, but I really did almost leave,” Brown said. “I’d been practicing and thought I was good enough to help out, but no one seemed to be watching. I’d always sort of liked ECU, and I’d told my family that I thought I’d drop out and enroll down there.”

What a reversal of fortune that could have been.

A few weeks after assistant coach Bishop Harris convinced Brown to give State a little more time, the Wolfpack went to Clemson and won 45-7 with Brown gaining 227 yards and scoring four touchdowns.

“That was the game I guess I remember best,” Brown said. “They said I was the best parking attendant they had because we got that big crowd cleared out of the lots and on the way home before the game was over.”

It was also the game that prompted yet another meeting between Brown and Holtz.

Back in Raleigh on Monday, Holtz summoned Brown to the office. Holtz told him that the offensive line did most of the work.

“That was a good lesson. I always said it was the best lesson I ever learned in football,” Brown said.

Baseball background

As a 7-year-old in High Point, Brown was probably the best youth league baseball player in the city.

The fourth of six children, he played baseball with and against his two older brothers and virtually skipped the introductory league levels in city competition.

“I didn’t get very interested at all in football until I was in high school,” Brown said. “The football coaches all wanted to put me in the line because I was short and stocky, I guess. In baseball, I could play any position without any trouble. When I was just 7, I was in the baseball league with the 12-year-olds.”

Brown’s father, Joshua, was a night-shift worker at a mattress company and never saw his son play much football until college.

But when his mother, Lillie Mae, died of leukemia during Brown’s junior season at State, Joshua became a regular at Wolfpack games.

“I think he’s still a little surprised that I was any good at football,” Brown said. “He and my brothers are still in High Point, and I hope to get down there and see them this weekend.

“I’m thankful and lucky that I was blessed with good parents. They both worked hard every day in shift work, but they still made sure we were raised right.”

After the NFL

During his eight seasons with the Vikings, Brown became a franchise fixture nicknamed “TD Teddy” by fans.

In 104 games, he rushed for more than 4,500 yards and accounted for 53 touchdowns.

“You know when I was at State, I didn’t even think about playing pro football at all till I was a senior. That’s how much the culture’s changed since my day,” Brown said.

“Then when I got picked by the Vikings, I thought, ‘Aw man, that cold place? I don’t know.’ ”

It turned out that the union was a natural. One of Brown’s sons, J.T., got so interested in hockey that he’s now on the Tampa Bay Lightning roster and was selected as the most outstanding player in the 2011 NCAA Frozen Four.

“This is a great area,” Brown said. “I miss North Carolina, but I’ve enjoyed Minnesota right from the start. I couldn’t have asked for more.”

After retiring from football, Brown went to work as a juvenile probation counselor in the St. Paul Ramsey County office and enjoys the work as much as the area.

“It’s how your life changes as you go along, but I’m more interested now in trying to help these young people stay out of trouble and make something of themselves than I am in watching football,” Brown said.

“If I have a project or work to do and the Vikings are playing, I don’t even think about watching or going to the game. It turns out that I put working with the kids before football a lot of weekends.”

But not this weekend.

“Oh no,” Brown said. “I’ll be right there. It’s such an honor for me to be included by the folks at State. It’s an honor and a thrill.”

Tudor: 919-829-8946

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