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Moment of Truth
Gary Smith
July 26, 1999
There was no action in the TCU locker room before the 1957 Cotton Bowl, but what Marvin Newman photographed there is as close to the essence of sports as anything that happens on a playing field.
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July 26, 1999

Moment Of Truth

There was no action in the TCU locker room before the 1957 Cotton Bowl, but what Marvin Newman photographed there is as close to the essence of sports as anything that happens on a playing field.

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Sure, he'll take snaps more famous than this. He'll bag that black-and-white shot of the World Series-winning homer soaring off Bill Mazeroski's bat as the scoreboard shows all the pertinent facts—3:36 p.m, ninth inning, score tied—of Game 7 between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the New York Yankees in 1960. He'll catch eyes all over the country with his picture of the newly widowed Jackie Kennedy clutching John-John's hand as they watch JFK's coffin go by. But 40-plus years after this New Year's Day in Dallas, long after his knees and hips have grown weary of all the kneeling and contorting and camera-bag banging, long after he's left sports photography to specialize in travel and city-skyline shots, and even after his pictures have been exhibited in all sorts of important places, he'll remember this picture almost as if he took it yesterday.

"They completely forgot about me," he'll say, sitting over the photo in his Manhattan apartment at age 71. "When photography works well, you can go inside the psyche of the people in the picture. You can see beyond the moment. I always loved this picture. I knew it was special. There hadn't been many photographs taken inside locker rooms, so I knew I was privileged. I couldn't have been standing more than 10 feet from Abe Martin...."

"...but we're not gonna shut down Jim Brown, boys. Not with one tackier. We're gonna have to swarm him. We'll slow him down. We'll go right at him when we've got the ball. He's not a great defensive player. We'll tire him out. We won't stop him. We'll outscore him. This game can put us right back where we belong, with the best teams in the country. Look inside yourselves and ask, Do I really want it? If you do, laddies, the goose hangs high. Now let's have the prayer."


Some of you might not quite grasp what's sitting and waiting for the Frogs in the room down the hall. Jim Brown stands 6'2" and weighs 225 pounds, which is at least 35 pounds more than the average halfback of his day, not to mention 22 pounds heavier than the average player on the biggest line in the country, Notre Dame's. He runs 100 yards in 10 seconds flat, high-jumps 6'3", hurls the discus 155 feet and once won six events for Syracuse in a track meet, which gave him the notion that it might be fun to enter the national decathlon championship, which he did on 10 days' practice and placed fifth. He scored 33 in a Syracuse basketball game and will be drafted by the NBA's Syracuse Nationals, not bad for a fellow who at the time was considered to have been the greatest lacrosse player in U.S. history. He's just finishing up a senior season in which he averaged 6.2 yards per carry, and he will average a record 5.2 yards per carry for the Cleveland Browns over the next nine years, leading the NFL in rushing in eight of those, before he'll hang it up, as MVP, at age 30. Forgive me if you knew all that, but some legends get so large, the particulars get lost.

Now, some of the Frogs are deeply worried about Brown. Others have been fooled by the three game films they've seen, because Brown looks slower on celluloid than he does when you're reaching for his heels. Still others think he's very good, but he can't possibly be better than John David Crow of Texas A&M.

Brown's sitting very still and silent right now. He's the sort of man who contains a lot more than he lets out, till he steps on the field, and maybe some of what he's holding in has to do with a question mat's struck you already, looking around the TCU locker room: Where are all the black folks? There's not one playing football in the Southwest Conference, and there won't be one on scholarship till nine years down the road, after Chuck Curtis becomes an SMU assistant coach and recruits Jerry Levias. In fact, it was only two years before this that the first blacks played in TCU's stadium, when Penn State brought Lenny Moore and Rosey Grier to town and they had to sleep at a motel way out on Jacksboro Highway, because the team couldn't find a downtown Fort Worth hotel that would have them.

That wasn't going to happen to Brown. He decided before the Orangemen arrived in Dallas that he'd refuse to be separated from his teammates, but it hadn't come to that. Syracuse was staying in a hotel on the edge of Dallas that accepted the whole squad.

Sure, Brown's thoughts are fixed on football right now, 15 minutes before kickoff, but it would be a lie to say that another question isn't nibbling on his mind: What's going to happen when he's circled by nearly 70,000 white Texans, some of them wearing cleats? Abe hasn't said a thing to his boys about color. Before the game against Moore and Grier in '54, all he said was, "They're darn good football players, so it wouldn't make much sense to say something to get 'em mad."

Brown will never be the sort to live on the fumes of his past, or reminisce much. But even at 63, when he's running across America directing Amer-I-Can—an organization he founded to tackle gang problems and help prisoners get ready for life outside the walls—some of what coursed through him in that Cotton Bowl locker room will still be with him.

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