Dropping Back: In the 1953 NFL Draft the New York Giants Struck Gold

We all know who the first-round busts are in NFL history. We get top 10 lists, most mentioning the same players, every year two to three weeks before the NFL Draft. A better question to ask this time of year is, what is the direct opposite of a first round bust?

Fortunately, there is an easy answer to that question. In 1953, the New York Giants struck out on their first, second and third round picks but struck gold in the 27th round with the 322 overall pick. Gold as in gold jacket. The Giants selected Hall of Fame tackle Roosevelt Brown out of Morgan State college.

By the time Brown’s career was over in 1965 he had been named and all-pro eight times, played in six Pro Bowls, anchored New York’s offensive line for the Giants 1956 Championship team and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1975.

Rosey Brown grew up in Charlottesville, VA. In a November 8, 1964, article in the New York Times Brown described his childhood.

“I was always a big boy. When I was 6, my mother put me in school and I took a test. I must have passed it because they put me in third grade. No first grade and no second grade. That meant I graduated from high school when I was 15 and from college at 19. When I played my first game for the Giants, in 1953, I was still 19.”

New York Times Archive

Even though he was always big for his age, Brown didn’t start playing football until he was in high school. He was playing trombone in the Jefferson High School band until the school’s football coach spotted Brown and put him in a uniform.

Based on his accomplishments in high school, both in the classroom and on the field, Brown should have had his pick of national college programs to play for. Because of Jim Crow laws and the racial attitudes of the time, Brown ended up going to Morgan State in Baltimore, on a full football scholarship.

Brown’s lack of national profile turned out to be a stroke of luck for New York. From the first NFL Draft in 1936 to 1963, when NFL teams began forming scouting partnerships, teams didn’t throw the resources into player evaluation that they do today.

In 1953, the height of college scouting consisted of the team’s brain trust closed up in a room with newspapers collected from all over the country piled on tables around them.

As the draft dragged into the 27th round, the New York draft team was tired and running out of ideas. Then someone picked up a copy of The Pittsburgh Courier, one of the most successful African American newspapers in the country.

Brown had been named to their All-America team. According to Wellington Mara, then the team’s vice president, “So we took him. It didn’t seem to make much difference who we took then.”

Ed Kolman, the Giants offensive line coach, had to teach Brown everything about technique during his first training camp, including the correct stance for an offensive lineman in the NFL. What Brown did bring to his first camp was they physical tools to be a special player.

Brown was 6 feet 3 inches tall and 255 pounds but that impressive size only scratched the surface of what he brough to playing left tackle.

Brown used his excellent balance and reflexes to become an unbeatable pass blocker as well as a devastating run blocker. He was also fast enough to pull from the tackle position and lead a ball carrier downfield.

No matter what he was called on to do, success came from Brown’s commitment to being the anonymous key to the Giants success on offense.

“The backs who carry the ball, they get the credit, the headlines, the big money. But they know and we know that they wouldn’t be anything if it wasn’t for us who give them the blocks.

New York Times Archive

Brown was a key part of an extended string of success that New York enjoyed in the late 1950s to early 1960s. In his rookie season the Giants finished with a 3-9 record but were putting but had a roster of players like quarterback Charlie Connerly, Kyle Rote, Frank Gifford on offense and a defense that included Emlen Tunnell and Tom Landry.

That core would earn New York an NFL Championship in 1956, their first since 1938, with a 47-7 victory over the Western Division champion Chicago Bears.

Brown earned his first of eight straight All Pro honors that season, six of those being First Team awards. Unfortunately, the Giants weren’t able to ride their big left tackle to another championship. They were Eastern Division champions in five of the next seven seasons but fell to the Western Division champs each time.

In 1958 and 1959, New York lost to the Johnny Unitas led Baltimore Colts. In 1961 and 1962, Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers began their dynastic run through the 1960s with a pair of NFL Championship Game wins over the Giants.

In 1963, New York travelled to Wrigley Field to take on a Chicago Bears defense that had only allowed 10.3 points per game. Brown earned lineman of the game honors for his work against Chicago’s fearsome front but the Giants fell short 13-10.

When Rosey Brown retired after the 1965 season, he found that plenty of teammates and opponents had taken notice of his play in the trenches.

Lombardi said of Brown, “When you think of great tackles in professional football, you must think of Rosey Brown.”

Teammate Frank Gifford also publicly recognized Brown’s importance to the Giants.

”I wouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame if it weren’t for him,” Gifford said. ”The longest run of my career was on a pitchout against Washington. Rosie made a block at the line of scrimmage. I cut it up, and then I’m running downfield and I look up and I see No. 79 in front of me, and he wiped out another guy.”

New York Times Obituary

Upon his retirement Brown worked for the Giants as an offensive line coach and later scouted college offensive linemen for the team.

While he continued his life in the game, football made sure he was receiving recognition for his career. Brown was named to the NFL’s 1950s All-Decade Team. In 1994, he was named to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time Team. Of course, in 1975 Brown joined George Connor, Dante Lavelli and Lenny Moore for enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

After Brown died on June 9, 2004, of a heart attack while working in his garden, he received two more prestigious honors from the game that he gave his life to. In 2010, Brown was a member of the inaugural class of the New York Giants Ring of Honor. In 2019, Brown was named to the NFL 100 All-Time team.

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