Jim Brown, the Kentucky Wildcats football “super fan,” saw his first Wildcats game on Sept. 24, 1938. A UK freshman, Brown watched Coach A.D. Kirwan’s Cats blast Maryville 46-7 in the 1938 season opener at Stoll Field.
“I lived in the Sigma Nu (fraternity) house, which was on Euclid Avenue,” Brown told me in 2010. “I don't really remember much about the game; I do remember walking across the street for the game.”
Brown - who died Monday at 97 - would go on to achieve local fame for his unyielding support of UK football teams. After he got home from World War II, the Bowling Green native attended every Kentucky home game from the start of the 1945 season through the second home game in Commonwealth Stadium in 2009.
The streak had reached 412 straight home games when Brown, then age 90 and battling a bad cold, skipped UK’s third 2009 home game against Alabama.
“He said he was sure there were many times he’d gone to games feeling worse than he did that day,” said Rodes Brown, Jim’s son. “But he said those times, he wasn’t 90.”
I met Jim Brown in 2003. With the Rich Brooks coaching era off to a struggling start and fan frustration high, I went to interview Brown for a column I envisioned on tips for surviving the tribulations of being a Kentucky football fan.
After talking to Brown, I remember calling my boss to tell him going to a bunch of UK football games in a row was not even close to the most interesting thing about him.
How Brown spent Thanksgiving Day, 1944, was.
In World War II, Brown was stationed in the China-Burma-India Theater as a U.S. Army Air Corps navigator. On Thanksgiving, 1944, Brown was on a B-25 bomber sent to hit Japanese-controlled bridges in Burma — the “Burma Bridge Busters” — in order to disrupt enemy supply lines.
It was the 30th combat flight for the then-25-year-old product of the University of Kentucky ROTC program.
When Brown’s plane, piloted by a Colorado rancher named Vernon Morris and also carrying three gunners, made its bombing run, Japanese anti-aircraft guns knocked out one of the aircraft’s two engines.
According to its flight manual, a B-25 flying full throttle on only one engine had a maximum flight capacity of 25 minutes.
After being hit, Brown’s craft was in the air for over an hour and 15 minutes on one engine as Morris nursed the plane through a narrow mountain pass to safely reach an American landing strip.
Brown and his fellow servicemen considered this their own Thanksgiving miracle.
“You know they say ‘There are no atheists in fox holes,’” Brown said in 2003. “There were none on this plane.”
Rodes Brown, 65, a Lexington attorney, said Friday the joke in the family was that Jim Brown “must have been a cousin to Forrest Gump, because he was always brushing up against fame and important events.”
As a UK student in September, 1941, Jim Brown attended a dance at the Lexington Country Club. At the dance, “he said he dropped a piece of paper that had his name and address on it,’ Rodes Brown says.
Police found that paper when they combed the country club hours later after the dead bodies of famous Lexington amateur golfer Marion Miley and her mother, Elsa, were found.
Eventually, three men — Tom Penney, Bob Anderson and Raymond “Skeeter” Baxter — went to the electric chair after being convicted for an attempted robbery that turned into one of the most infamous murders in Lexington history.
Before all that, “Dad said the police came to the Sigma Nu house and asked to see ‘Jim Brown,’” Rodes Brown said. “They’d found that piece of paper with Dad’s name and they were running down all leads. He always liked to (joke) he was the first suspect in the Marion Miley murder.”
After a long career that included work in the lumber industry, construction business and real estate, most of Brown’s local notoriety owed to his unfailing loyalty to UK football.
His wife of 52 years, Carolyn, was the daughter of William “Black Doc” Rodes, an early (1915 and ’16) UK football star. (After Carolyn died in 1999, Jim remarried. He is survived by his second wife, Mary Anne Brown).
“With how Dad felt about UK football, he was always proud of that connection to ‘Black Doc,’” said Rodes Brown.
Unlike many of The Long-Suffering UK Football Fans who have endured decade after decade filled with (mostly) torment, Jim Brown kept faith to the end that, one day, Kentucky football will again become a consistent success.
When UK recently announced that it had extended the contract of current Cats Coach Mark Stoops, Rodes Brown said he told his dad the news.
“Dad said ‘I really believe (Stoops is) the one who’s going to get it done,’” Rodes Brown says.