NFF College Football Hall of Fame Class of 2015: Ruben Brown
ASN will profile all 17 new members in advance of the Dec. 8 NFF awards dinner in New York City.
When Ruben Brown arrived in Pittsburgh as a freshman, he was a defensive lineman who had followed his dreams from E.C. Glass High School in Lynchburg, Va., hoping to become a Big East star pulverizing the league’s offenses. The Parade All-American was disappointed when an injury forced him to redshirt during the 1990 season.
“A couple of athletes from my hometown had had some success there,” Brown recalled. “I was also a huge fan of Tony Dorsett (Heisman Trophy winning running back at Pitt). I wore Tony Dorsett’s jersey until the numbers wore off. So when they came calling, they were high on my list. And I thought Pitt was about to do something.”
When Brown came back for his second year, as a redshirt freshman, however, he received some rather unsettling news from the coaching staff. He was told because of the talent in front of him on defense — including linemen Sean Gilbert and Keith Hamilton (also from Lynchburg) who both later played in the NFL — he needed to move to the offensive side of the ball if he wanted to see much playing time. Injuries had ravaged the offensive line, which needed a big body like Brown’s.
“The defense was still strong,” Brown lamented. “I gave it a good go of it. Bill Meyers (Pitt offensive line coach) knew I had played offensive line in all-star games and parts of my career. He brought me over to try and play on the offensive line — and it worked. I didn’t agree at first. The desire to get on the field overwhelms you.”
Playing for head coaches Paul Hackett and then Johnny Majors at Pitt turned out to be a good training ground for Brown’s 13-year professional NFL career with the Buffalo Bills and Chicago Bears.
“It was a huge transition (from one coach to another),” Brown said. “Hackett had a real pro-style offense. The example was the San Francisco 49ers’ West Coast offense, which ended up being helpful to me when I went to the pros. Then, when Majors came, we ran more of a college offense. I got a real football education with both of those guys. I don’t think I could have gotten it at any other school.”
Selected 14th overall in the 1995 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills, Brown would go to nine Pro Bowls during his career and in the 2006 season played for the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI. In retirement, Brown’s foundation has been involved in several educational, developmental and mentoring programs aimed at helping children. He enjoys uplifting the Buffalo community with humanitarian efforts as well as hosting sports radio and television shows.
“The sport (football) has built-in life lessons,” Brown said. “It tells you about falling down and getting back up. You learn about teamwork and camaraderie, all relevant in day-to-day life. Football taught me how to deal with people and setbacks and disappointments and having success and still having a drive to do more.”
Above: Ruben Brown made the transition from defensive to offensive line. (Courtesy Pitt Athletics)