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For Brown, food over football

Professional and college football legend Roger Brown
Professional and college football legend Roger Brown speaks during a news conference for the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival on Friday in Winchester. Dennis Grundman/Daily (Buy photo)

By Tommy Keeler Jr. - tkeeler@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- Roger Brown had a decision to make in 1969. He enjoyed playing professional football, but he also wanted to spend more time with another love of his -- the restaurant business.

The defensive lineman decided to retire and focus on his restaurant business after just 10 years in the NFL.

"When I was playing for the [Los Angeles] Rams, they were paying me $45,000 a year, and I had restaurants in Chicago that were making over $8 million," Brown, 73, said in an interview on Friday at the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival. "This is a simple deduction. I said I think I need to go and take care of my restaurants and give up football. And I did."

While he played in the NFL from 1960 to 1969 for the Detroit Lions and the Los Angeles Rams, Brown started a chain of eight restaurants in Chicago. He has since given those up, but he still owns and runs Roger Brown's Restaurant and Sports Bar in Portsmouth, where he currently resides.

Brown said he always had a love for restaurants, and he loves the business.

"It was something that fit," Brown said. "It was something that I liked doing. I like making up the menu. I like cooking. I like meeting and greeting people and talking to them."

Brown is one of the sports guests for this year's Apple Blossom Festival and will be a speaker at this morning's Sports Breakfast and ride in the Grand Feature Parade. It is Brown's first trip to the area, and he said he has enjoyed it.

"I was impressed with the town itself," Brown said. "This is 83 years for the Apple Blossom Festival and they've made it their own. They go all out. There's good citizens here and it's a good town."

Brown said he doesn't get to watch as much football as he would like since his restaurant is usually busy during the games. He said his restaurant is 16,000 square feet, and there are usually 500-600 people there on Sundays during football season.

Normally Brown said he wears a Lions helmet and asks his guests to root for the Lions for at least one play during their game. When he played for the Lions from 1960 to 1966, he was part of the "Fearsome Foursome" along with Alex Karras, Sam Williams and Darris McCord.

After being traded to the Rams in 1967, he again was part of a quartet known as the "Fearsome Foursome," which also included Deacon Jones, Lamar Lundy and Merlin Olsen.

"Probably the highlight of my career was I played for two of the greatest defensive lines in the history of pro football," Brown said. "And I contributed to both of those teams."

Brown said one of his favorite moments was the Lions beating the Green Bay Packers on Thanksgiving Day in 1962. It was the only loss the Packers suffered that season.

If there was one thing he could change about the game today, Brown said it would be for the league to take better care of the veteran players who played in the past.

"It's still an $8 billion business," Brown said. "For them to only give old guys like myself $150 a month for retirement -- I think it could work better. I think there's enough of a pie there that they could slice it to take care of the old guys."

Another highlight in Brown's career came last year when he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Brown played at Maryland State, which is now Maryland-Eastern Shore.

When Brown played, the college was a 1-AA school and he said they were so successful that no one wanted to play them. So the school ended its football program 37 years ago.

"That was awesome," Brown said of his Hall of Fame induction. "I never in my wildest dreams figured I would be elected into the College Football Hall of Fame. I'm the only player from my old school that's in it."

Brown said he's glad to see the way football has grown, and he still loves the game. However, he said he doesn't feel players are as tough as they were when he played.

Brown jokingly said he thinks he could still compete with the players of today.

"The guys today are taller, heavier. I don't think they had the speed that we had," Brown said. "These guys are doing a good job. If you give somebody that much money, you'd go out and pick up cars if you had to.

"If I went to training camp with them now I think I could still hold my own, but I probably [would] get hurt. They'd have to take me to the hospital."


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