NEW YORK (Reuters) - Hall of Famer Jim Brown says the New England Patriots will reign supreme in NFL history should they complete a perfect Super Bowl run.
Brown, the former Cleveland Browns running back and arguably the greatest professional football player ever, does not like to draw comparisons but made an exception for New England.
The Pats carry an 18-0 mark into next month’s Super Bowl XLII against the New York Giants (13-6) in Glendale, Arizona.
“Greatness is greatness. I have respect for all of it,” Brown, 71, told Reuters in a recent interview.
“If they can go through and win the Super Bowl, that will probably be the greatest feat in the history of football.”
New England needs a victory on February 3 to reach 19-0 and join the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the only NFL team to go unbeaten and untied on the way to winning the championship. Miami, playing a shorter and weaker schedule, compiled a 17-0 record.
Brown has more to celebrate than just great football during the Super Bowl week in Arizona.
He is joining forces with 11-time NBA champion Bill Russell and ex-heavyweight boxing champion George Foreman to kick off fundraising for a 20th year of Brown’s Amer-I-Can foundation.
The goal is to raise $20 million to expand their educational program that is being used by inner-city school systems and prisons in 16 cities to raise self-esteem, foster discipline and combat gang influence and violence.
“You’re talking about a young, revolutionary age,” said Brown, who himself has been cited for being abusive to women in his personal life.
“The hip-hop culture is combined with the criminal culture and has such an influence on our kids.”
Brown, who retired from the gridiron at his peak at age 30 when he was acting in the World War II-inspired movie “The Great Escape,” says the historical achievement by the Pats would be undeniable, but he believes comparisons are unfair.
“I don’t tell anyone I was the best running back,” said Brown, who led the NFL in rushing eight of his nine seasons and whose career yardage record stood for nearly 20 years.
“It’s an unnecessary claim. It sort of makes all the other flowers look bad. Why would you want to say you’re better than (former Chicago Bears running back) Gale Sayers?”
Brown admires many players today but feels times have changed and too many show a lack of control on the field.
Looking back, Brown saluted Bears linebacker Dick Butkus as “a true warrior” and the Baltimore Colts’ Johnny Unitas as “an unbelievable quarterback.”
“I don’t just look at the ones I played with, I look at history,” Brown said.
Brown wishes he could share his Amer-I-Can curriculum with youngsters in pro sports where players seem to be increasingly running foul of the law and has approached NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
“You’re looking at the opportunity to become rich in one day,” Brown said about some pro rookies.
”Then when you look at the individuals who run the National Football League, they are not experienced with the culture we are talking about.
“You have two cultures that are coming together and have nothing in common. You have no bridge.”
Brown plans to reach out to Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who has also known high-profile troubled times, and Giants’ tight end Jeremy Shockey, among others, to help his cause.
“I know who the real people are,” he said. “Bobby Knight. To me, I love this man and so many people don’t understand him,” Brown said about the temperamental college basketball coach.
”(Patriots coach) Bill Belichick, I love this man. So many people don’t understand him.
”These are real people that don’t always have the best reputation among the elite and those who are pretending to be holier than thou.
“When it gets down to true character I’ll buy those individuals I‘m talking about over anybody.”
Editing by Dave Thompson