Tim Brown was recruited to Notre Dame by Gerry Faust out of Dallas, Texas as part of the recruiting class of 1984, but wouldn’t reach his full potential until Lou Holtz arrived prior to the 1986 season. Brown played for the same high school, Woodrow Wilson High, that produced 1938 Heisman Trophy winner Davey O’Brien .
In three years of varsity high school football, Brown’s team would win only a total of four games – a trend that would follow Brown throughout his collegiate and professional career. Despite playing for a team that lost far more games than they won, Brown was recruited by most of the elites of the college football world. Iowa, SMU, Oklahoma, and Nebraska made up Brown’s official visits along with Notre Dame. The Irish won out in the end, despite financial offerings from SMU a few years prior to their death penalty sentence that would come a few years later.
Notre Dame Career
Brown saw the field from day one and fielded the opening kick-off of the 1984 – a kick-off that he would fumble with Purdue recovering to set up their first score of the game. Luckily for Brown and the Irish, his first impression would be an aberration and not the norm over his four years at Notre Dame. He would end up finishing his freshman season with a Notre Dame freshman record 28 catches for 340 yards and his first career touchdown.
In his sophomore season, Brown’s numbers didn’t improve over the marks he set as a freshman in ’84, but he was still one of the most exciting players on the field for the Irish that year. His 25 receptions were a career low, but he improved on his yardage from his freshman year by 57 and he reached the end-zone three times in the passing game, once on the ground running the ball, and yet another time on a 93 yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Michigan State.
As a junior in 1986 under new head coach Lou Holtz, Brown had a breakout year by almost doubling his career reception total with a 45 catch, 910 yard, 5 touchdown season. In an attempt to get the ball in Brown’s hands as much as possible, Lou Holtz also utilized him in the rushing game with 59 carries which netted 254 yards and two touchdowns. Brown started to blossom as a kick returner in ’86 with two more kicks returned for touchdowns and an average of 27.1 yards per return. Holtz also started to use Brown in the punt return game which resulted in two returns for 75 yards.
Brown’s Heisman campaign began with the regular season finale of his junior season. Against arch-rival USC, Brown put on one of the best individual performances of the year with 254 all-purpose yards and almost single-handedly brought the Irish back from a 37-20 deficit. During Notre Dame’s 17 point comeback which ended with a John Carney game winning field goal for the 38-37 victory, Brown set up one touchdown with a 57 yard kick return, set up another with a 49 yard catch from Steve Beuerlein, and then set up Carney’s game winner with a 56 yard punt return.
That USC game was a sign of things to come from Brown during his senior season. Against Boston College Brown set a career high for all-purpose yards with 294 and against Alabama he added another 225 in Notre Dame’s blowout win over the 10th ranked Crimson Tide in the final home game of his career.
If there was a single moment, however, when Brown cemented himself as the clear favorite for the Heisman it was in Notre Dame’s 31-8 win over #17 Michigan State in the home opener. Brown returned two punts for touchdowns in a span of 2:01. From that point on, all eyes were on Brown and despite a slight drop-off in his receiving totals, he was generally considered the most dangerous weapon in college football.
Post Notre Dame Career
Brown was drafted 6th overall in the 1988 NFL Draft by the Los Angeles Raiders and made an immediate impact as rookie by leading the NFL in kick returns, yards, and average which was enough to get selected for the Pro Bowl team as a kick returner. Oddly enough, Brown would not be utilized as a kick returner much at all over the other 15 years of his career.
In 1993, Brown emerged as one of the better wide receivers in the NFL with his first 1,000 yard season – an 80 catch, 1,180 yard, seven touchdown campaign. The ’93 season would end up being the first of nine consecutive 1,000+ yard seasons for Brown. Seven of those seasons ended with Brown being selected to the Pro Bowl as a receiver to go along with his two selections as a return man in ’88 and ’91. His nine Pro Bowl selections are tied with Alan Page for a Notre Dame record.
When Brown retired from the NFL in 2004, he was second all time in receiving yards with 14,934 and five all time in all-purpose yards with 19,682. He will be eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.