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The hardest hitters in football

Matt Schudel

A couple of days ago, when I was researching the life of Jack Tatum, the Oakland Raiders defensive back who was famous -- or notorious -- for his vicious tackles, I found an entertaining series of videos from NFL Films.

It seems that Tatum was named the sixth-hardest hitting tackler in NFL history. This video contains some entertaining interviews with players and sportswriters, as well as several clips of Tatum in action.

The NFL series of short films counts down a Top 10 of hard hitters in football history, and most of the names are familiar to fans. But the player who came in just ahead of Tatum at No. 5 was a complete revelation.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Legend of Hardy Brown. Brown was an undersized linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers in the 1950s who was a one-man wrecking crew on the gridiron.

Don't take my word for it. Here's a quotation from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1999:

"Brown stood just 6-foot and 190 pounds -- small for a linebacker even then - but he played with a fury unmatched at a time when rough and often dirty play was commonplace. Depending on who's talking, Brown was either the ultimate cheap-shot artist or the hardest hitter the game has ever known."

Besides the mayhem he brought to the field, Brown had a compelling personal story as well. He had a rough background in Texas and was 4 when he witnessed the murder of his father. He grew up in a Fort Worth orphanage, whose football team -- officially known as the Masonic Home Mighty Mites -- became a Texas legend known as the Twelve Mighty Orphans.

Texas writer Jim Dent has written a terrific book about the Orphans, and a movie is being made about the team, which routinely beat bigger opponents from richer schools.

Hardy Brown died in 1991 at the age of 67 and, as you can see from the fascinating video below, cherished his well-earned reputation as one of the toughest men who ever played in the NFL.

By Matt Schudel  |  July 29, 2010; 5:56 PM ET
Categories:  Matt Schudel  | Tags: hardy brown, jack tatum, toughest NFL players, twelve mighty orphans  
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