By HELEN ROSS
Five games. That’s how long it took before the great Ted Brown, the man who would come to be known as “Touchdown Ted Brown,” got his first start at tailback for N.C. State.
His debut couldn’t have come at a better time, either. The Wolfpack was struggling with a 2-2 record and reeling from six fumbles against Michigan State.
So, Lou Holtz tapped the freshman, who had previously only seen action on special teams and the junior varsity, to start at Indiana and he responded by rushing for more than 100 yards in the 27-0 rout.
Brown went on to set the standard for running backs in the Atlantic Coast Conference. He finished his career with 4,602 yards – a phenomenal record that stood until last fall when Clemson’s Travis Etienne broke it on his 15th carry against Boston College.
“People are expecting me to be bitter, but that’s just not me,” Brown told John Dell of the Winston-Salem Journal last November. “My record stood for 42 years, and that’s a pretty good length of time.”
Indeed. And if you add in Brown’s gains during the Wolfpack’s three bowl appearances, that career mark swells to an even more impressive 5,001 (although the NCAA didn’t start counting statistics from postseason play until 2002).
Not bad for a kid from T.W. Andrews High School in High Point who had drawn the bulk of his recruiting attention from Appalachian State and East Carolina. But his high school coach Bob Boswell joined Lou Holtz’s staff in Raleigh and convinced him to take a chance on Brown.
The 5-foot-8, 175-pounder had a remarkable blend of speed and power that produced 27 100-yard games in 42 starts, as well as 51 touchdowns. Brown also led the Wolfpack in receiving three straight years.
Quarterback Johnny Evans, who played with Brown at Andrews and at N.C. State, was always impressed by his teammate’s balance.
“When Ted made a cut, it almost seemed like he was sliding,” Evans said when Brown was inducted into the N.C. State Athletic Hall of Fame. “It was like he was doing a sidestep or a slide step. He could get one leg knocked out from under him, but he's had such great balance he could still continue with his run.”
Bill Cowher, another former teammate who went on to coach in the NFL and now works as a commentator, said Brown had a low center of gravity that made him hard to tackle.
“I think Ted was one of those runners that, he ran very close to the ground, very short steps,” he said prior to Brown’s induction. “He had deceptive speed. He ran kind of low to the ground and those are the types of guys, they’re hard.
“You never got a clean shot on Ted Brown. You never saw him take a big hit.”
Brown was the league’s first four-time, first-team All-ACC performer. He rushed for 913 yards in that abbreviated freshman season, earning the league’s first Rookie of the Year Award, then topped the 1,000-yard mark each of the next three years. He earned All-American honors as a senior and was sixth in voting for the Heisman Trophy.
The Minnesota Vikings took Brown with the 16th pick in the first round of the 1979 draft. He played for the Vikings for eight seasons and finished his career with 4,546 yards rushing – which ranks fifth all-time for the NFL team -- and 53 touchdowns.
Brown was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 1995. He is also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, inducted in 2013.
After leaving the Vikings, Brown worked as a juvenile probation officer in the Minneapolis area, retiring three years ago.
"I like working with juveniles because they're not to the point where they're gone deep into the system," Brown told Tim Peeler of The Wolfpacker in 2010. "You still try to help them become better citizens and instill in them the importance of staying in school and out of trouble. They aren't that far gone. I like working with kids. I love what I'm doing."