Books Available Now!

thefireescapev1

thefireescapev2

thefireescapebelongsinbrooklyn

Join the Mailing List

Name*
Please type your full name.
E-mail*
Invalid email address.
Invalid Input

In Memory of Brig Owens: Football Legend and So Much More

IN MEMORY OF BRIG OWENS—

An Outstanding Football Player and So Much More

By

Chuck Cascio

     Fifty years ago, a 25-year-old freelance writer and would-be-author heard of a summer camp that was being sponsored and run by some members of the then-called Washington Redskins football team. The camp was designed to help needy kids, mainly from inner-city areas, have a brief but significant experience outside of their city in a semi-rural setting. The youths would spend several days and nights together under the supervision of a few dedicated members of the Washington football team. The purpose of the camp was not just to teach football—though informal instruction was part of each day—but also to give the kids the chance to experience and enjoy a different taste of life, something far removed from the heated sidewalks of the city. 

      Brig Owens was the player who most aggressively recruited kids to attend the camp and he was determined to make the camp meaningful in many ways to all of them. And I was the aspiring, nobody freelancer who wrote the story thanks to Brig accepting my request to spend a day at the camp.

     Brig’s death on June 21, 2022 at the age of 79 hit me hard, but much more important is the fact that his passing serves as reminder of all the good that can be done by one person who commits his life to helping others. 

IMG 1154

     For Brig, my feature story provided publicity and possible additional funding for a camp that helped thousands of kids over the years. For me, it was a step toward recognition as a young reporter. For us both, it was the start of a friendship that led to a book entitled Over the Hill to the Super Bowl that we co-wrote based on Brig’s diary of the 1972 Washington football season, the first year the Washington team ever went to the Super Bowl. That friendship lasted throughout the 50 years that have passed, and it also led to a book that will be released this fall by Temple University Press. The book, written by the late Ed Garvey who served as executive director of the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) from 1971-1983, details how Brig, who earned his law degree after retiring from football in 1977, and other players committed themselves to developing the strength of the NFLPA. Brig used his experience and expertise to raise the level of pay, benefits, and ultimately respect for athletes who too often in the 1970s and ’80s and were taken for granted and treated unfairly.

     Brig’s name and his jersey number, 23, are featured on a wall of Fedex Field, the now Washington Commanders home turf, and Brig was inducted into the Washington Ring of Fame for his outstanding career as strong safety with 36 career interceptions and countless key plays. Sure, I will remember him for his on-field intelligence, speed, toughness and game-changing plays. But I will also remember him for his willingness to work with me over the years, and for his determination to improve his own life, the lives of his wife and two daughters, the lives of fellow athletes, and the lives of countless others.

     Brig Owens remains an example of the value of positive commitment. He was an outstanding quarterback, punter, and placekicker for the University of Cincinnati, where he was inducted into the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame. But at a time when Black players were not viewed as prospective professional quarterback prospects regardless of their outstanding collegiate accomplishments, Brig was moved to the position of safety in 1965 when he was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, who placed him on the taxi squad and then traded him to Washington. Not one of the greatest moves by the Cowboys, to say the least!

     When writing our book Over the Hill to the Super Bowl in 1972, Brig would occasionally stop by my home to drop off the secretly-recorded audiotapes he was making on which he detailed the team’s practices and preparations for games. He always played with my two-year-old son, Marc, who knew he was in the midst of a guy who actually played pro football on TV! My younger son, Ross, came to know of Brig a couple of years later as Brig's accomplishments continued to accumulate.

     At other times, I would drive to Redskins Park, located at the time in Herndon, VA, and park at the far end of the lot so Brig could drop his audiotapes off to me without anyone noticing. When the book was published after the season following the close Super Bowl loss to the undefeated Miami Dolphins, Brig did not back away from interviews. There was concern among some in the press and some players that Washington coach George Allen would be upset over the secretly published content. However, Brig viewed it as his personal right to have the book published and given Brig’s character and, of course, his on-field skills, Allen never openly challenged the book’s publication.

     Brig’s belief in players’ personal rights was evident in his involvement as a player representative to the NFLPA and then as assistant executive director of that organization. He was a leader in the fight for players’ salaries, pensions, and other benefits. For football players, there will always be a debt owed to Brig and to others who believe in equal rights on and off the field. 

     Brig was not a man driven by a quest for personal recognition. First and foremost, Brig was a man who saw that through his position, intellect, and personal drive, he could contribute to the benefit of others. So that is what he did. And that will be Brig Owens’ lasting legacy.

Copyright: Chuck Cascio; all rights reserved.

Reach me at chuckwrites@yahoo.com; @ChuckCascio on Twitter; Chuck Cascio on Facebook.