When Blackshirts Were Blackshirts: Ralph Brown
When we think of cornerbacks, it’s easy to reduce their job to just pass coverage. But the best corners also bring the physicality and willingness to hit. Ralph Brown was exactly that kind of corner.
Pressed into starting duty as a true freshman from the season opener on, Brown punished teams for thinking he was someone they could pick on. Brown picked off four passes and batted away 12 others that year. In the 17-12 slugfest against #5 Colorado that year, he set a record by knocking away 7 passes. He would be named the Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year.
By his sophomore year, teams learned to avoid his side of the field but he still did enough to finish the year as a first-team all-conference player. More memorable was the fumble he forced in the Orange Bowl against Tennessee that turned the momentum early in the game and helped deliver NU a national championship. For the second year in a row, he showed a knack for making the big play in the big game.
The 1998 season was not a great one for the team, but Brown excelled. He showed his toughness by amassing 46 tackles for the year and he still amassed 14 pass breakups. His fumble return for a touchdown against Kansas State that year was just another instance of a big play from Brown in a big game. The Huskers lost that game, but Brown boldy stated, "This is a one-year deal. We won't lose to K-State next year. You can put that one on me."
The 1999 season was a great one for the Husker defense in no small part due to Brown. He amassed 40 tackles and 15 pass breakups along with three interceptions. True to his word the Huskers would avenge their loss to Kansas State and Ralph did his part by returning a fumble to the Kansas State one-yard line early in the game. He was named both a team captain and a first-team All-American that year. In his final game, a Fiesta Bowl rematch, he amassed 8 tackles and a pass breakup. He graduated owning a 52-game starting streak, 50 pass break-ups, and 143 career tackles – all team records for an NU cornerback and highlighting his toughness and cover skills for four great seasons.
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