It was only “instincts.”
To Eddie Brown, that was the key to him pulling off one of the most breathtaking special teams plays in Redskins history.
In a Monday night game against the St. Louis Cardinals on Oct. 25, 1976, Brown sloshed 71 yards through the mud and downpour at RFK Stadium and into the end zone.
How “Steady Eddie” kept his balance in such elements was a mammoth feat in itself. Doing so helped lift the Redskins to a 20-10 win and kept them in the thick of the NFC East race in a season that ended with a playoff appearance.
“I didn’t do anything more special than I’d always do,” the modest Brown said at alumni day at FedExField on Nov. 3. “I knew we needed something, so I just kept on trudging.”
Redskins publicists better captured the thrill of the moment:
“With the Cardinal special team streaming downfield to nail him, Eddie found a clearing block which put him past the initial wave of tacklers.
Jetting toward the right sideline, Brown ran through, over and around Cardinals tacklers and headed for the end zone.
The fans were on their feet, screaming encouragement and sensing a score … And they weren’t disappointed. Stumbling twice as he got inside the 10, Brown righted himself and carried it in.”
The play highlighted Brown’s three-year stay with the Redskins (1975-77), a period when he was one of the NFL’s marquee special teams players.
In 1976, he led the league with 646 punt return yards, then the second-best total in NFL history and only a few yards from first.
He made the Pro Bowl that year and in 1977, when he returned a league-high 57 punts for 452 yards. His kickoff return numbers also were among the league-leaders both years.
“He wasn’t very fast at all, but he had good instincts,” one of his teammates, receiver Roy Jefferson, said in echoing Brown’s sentiment. “When he caught the ball, he went wherever the open area was.”
Brown played his 1974 rookie season and the first three games of 1975 in Cleveland, before being cut.
The Redskins then claimed the safety off waivers for only $100. They’d lost safety Ken Stone to injury and needed someone to fill in.
After arriving in D.C., Brown met with Redskins coach George Allen, a special teams mastermind and a stickler for details.
“He knew more about me than my mother,” Brown said. “You think that’s funny, but he had it laid out: This is what I expect out of you, this is what we want you to do.
“I’d been in pro ball for two years. Nobody had a plan. It was sort of helter skelter. (Allen) gave me a playbook that was about three inches thick, and he said, `Now, you just have to know this by Sunday.’ That was about an inch and a half of it.”
In 1975, Brown saw action in the last 11 games as a nickel back and on special teams.
An injury to kick return specialist Larry Jones before the 1976 season elevated him to the top return man.
In the season-opener, he returned a punt 45 yards with about two minutes remaining to spark a touchdown drive that lifted the Redskins over the Giants, 19-17.
Two weeks later, he came up clutch on defense. With the Redskins and Eagles tied at 17 in overtime, he intercepted a pass that set up Mark Moseley’s game-winning field goal.
Brown’s 13.46 punt return average in 1976 was the second-best mark in Redskins history.
He returned a league-record 11 punts in one game in 1977. His 1,150 punt return yards were No. 1 in the Redskins’ record books by the end of the 1977 season.
Following his stop in D.C., Brown played two seasons for the Los Angeles Rams.
He intercepted a pass in the third quarter of their 31-19 loss to the Steelers in Super Bowl XIV.
Brown retired from the NFL after the 1979 season but returned to play two years in the United States Football League, 1983 for the Chicago Blitz and 1984 for the Arizona Wranglers.
George Allen coached both teams.
Mike Richman is the author of The Redskins Encyclopedia and the Washington Redskins Football Vault. His web site is redskinshistorian.com. Check out his Facebook Friend and Fan pages and follow him on Twitter.