Raiders, Hall mourn the passing of former cornerback Willie Brown

Photo courtesy of USA Today
Clark Judge

Former Oakland Raiders’ cornerback and Hall-of-Famer Willie Brown, one of the architects of the “bump-and-run” style of pass coverage, has passed away.

He was 78.

No cause of death was mentioned. At the time of his death, Brown was on the Raiders’ administrative staff.

Brown is best known for his interception of Minnesota’s Fran Tarkenton in Super Bowl XI, a pass he returned 75 yards for a touchdown. It was the longest interception return in Super Bowl history, a record that stood 29 years until it was broken by Kelly Herndon’s 76-yard return in Super Bowl XL.

Brown’s pro career began when he went undrafted after leaving Grambling State in 1963, later signing with the Houston Oilers of the AFL. Cut in training camp, he joined Denver and became a starter there by the middle of his rookie season.

His big break, however, came in 1967 when then-Raiders owner Al Davis acquired Brown. He would go on to be an AFL champion, an NFL champion, a four-time All-Pro and first-team choice on the 1970s' all-decade team. Moreover, of his 54 career interceptions, 39 were with the Raiders – where he later would serve as an assistant coach and director of staff development.

“Willie Brown will forever be cherished as a true Raider,” the Raiders said in a statement released Tuesday morning. “He exemplified the Raider spirit. He remained an integral part of the organization through six decades.

“His legendary performance on the field changed the way the cornerback position was played, and his valued guidance as a coach, mentor and administrator permeated the organization and touched countless individuals both on and off the field.”

Brown was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1984.

"The entire Hall of Fame family mourns the loss of a great man," Hall-of-Fame president and CEO David Baker said in a prepared statement. "Willie Brown was the epitome of the Raiders' motto of 'commitment to excellence' that was integral to the team's 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."

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