Ed Brown fits in somewhere between Bobby Layne and Terry Bradshaw on the Steelers’ all-time quarterback depth chart, so you can be excused for not remembering his football career in Pittsburgh more distinctly.
Brown, who died recently in Kennewick, Wash., of prostate cancer, had a knack for making big plays in the passing game before delivering the long ball was considered cool.
He was the Steelers’ starting quarterback in 1963 and ’64 and is the answer to a trivia question: What quarterback in NFL history with more than 15,000 passing yards has the highest yards-per-completion average?
Brown passed for 15,600 yards and 102 touchdowns in 12 NFL seasons, including eight with the Chicago Bears. His 16.44-yard average on only 949 career completions is the best in league history.
By the time Brown took the field as Layne’s hand-picked successor following two Pro Bowl seasons with the Bears, he was pushing 35 and seemingly on the downside of his career.
Nevertheless, good, old No. 15, who joined the NFL two years late following a stint with the Marines, managed to crank up his arm to the tune of 168 for 362 passing for 2,982 yards, 21 touchdowns and 20 interceptions in 1963.
“Brown had a real good year,” recalled Steelers chairman Dan Rooney, who is entering his 50th season with the organization. “He came in and backed up Bobby Layne and this was his first year as a starter.”
Brown, who was also a punter with Chicago, produced the eighth-best season for a quarterback in Steelers history. That same year he tied for fifth on the team’s all-time list for most touchdown passes in a season and had four touchdowns in a win against Dallas. Bradshaw is the only Steeler to throw for more touchdowns in a season.
Coach Buddy Parker’s Steelers went 7-4-3 with Brown at the helm in 1963. It followed a year in which the Steelers finished 9-5 and lost to Detroit in the now-defunct Playoff Bowl with Layne under center, and would be the team’s last winning season until an 11-3 record with coach Chuck Noll in 1972.
Brown was the only Steelers quarterback with a winning record in the years spanning from Layne to Bradshaw, who led the ’72 squad.
The ’63 Steelers scored 321 points, a mark that stood until 1972 as the highest total in franchise history.
Brown’s top receiving threat was Buddy Dial, who had 60 catches for 1,295 yards and nine touchdowns. Dial’s 21.6 yards-per-catch average that season remains the highest in Steelers history for players with more than 40 catches.
Rooney said he believed Brown could have led the Steelers to the playoffs in ’63, as Layne had done the year before. He pointed to a 33-17 loss to the New York Giants in the final game of the season in which the defense failed to get the ball back to the Steelers’ high-scoring offense late in the contest.
“Brown was a big guy with a strong arm. He was capable,” Rooney said. “If he had been with us the whole time, I think we would have won a lot of games. I think we could have even won the championship. He was that good for us.”