It’s a Small World for Theotis Brown
Not too many people can lay claim to having shared a locker in high school with a future Academy Award winning actor. And how many athletes can thank a college basketball coaching legend for helping them find shoes that fit – to play football?
Well, Theotis “Big Foot” Brown is waving his hand.
A running back for the Seahawks from 1981-1983, Brown earned the nickname “Big Foot” in college by sporting size 15 feet, which he used to become the then all-time leading rusher in UCLA Bruins history at the conclusion of his college career.
Brown was raised in Oakland, Calif. and attended Skyline High School. His locker mate in school happened to be Tom Hanks, the aforementioned actor, and an item of interest Brown has fun with when quizzing his friends.
“I used to say I went to school with a guy who was a two-time Academy Award winner,” said Brown, “and people would say, ‘James Earl Jones?’ James Earl Jones is like 80 years old! I may be old but I’m not that old. ‘Denzel Washington?’ Or they would say, ‘Tom Hanks?’ We shared a locker because that’s how our locker setup was. I always used to say the difference between Tom Hanks and me was height and money – I was taller, and you figure out the rest.”
Brown led Skyline High to an undefeated football season in 1974, which helped land him with the UCLA football program in 1976. He would rush for 2,914 yards for the Bruins, but it actually took a little help from the school’s basketball program to help him rack up those big numbers.
“I had issues with my shoes, because I wore size 15,” said Brown. “Not too many running backs wear 15s, and back then Adidas was the show for the school, we were sponsored by Adidas. They’ve changed it since – we’re talking almost 35 years ago – and I had issues with Adidas because they were made for a narrow-foot person, and I had triple Es – Fred Flintstone feet. So I was trying to figure out how to get into these shoes.”
Brown was constantly changing shoes, and driving the equipment manager nuts in the process.
“We were practicing on turf and my feet were killing me,” he recalls. “And one night, I’m walking through the athletic department and I hear, ‘Hey, Theotis!’ It’s coach John Wooden. I’m thinking, ‘the Wizard’ is saying something to me? I didn’t know he even knew my name. He walks me into his office, and there are these boxes of basketball shoes, and he says to try them on. So I tried them on and they fit pretty good, and he said I could have them, I could practice in them.”
Wooden had heard that Brown was having issues in practice getting the right shoes for his feet. As it turns out, a few days later Brown set a UCLA team record for the most rushing yards in a game against the University of Washington at Husky Stadium, a game the Bruins also won.
“In my John Wooden shoes. I kid you not, it happened just like that,” said Brown. “I actually still have those shoes and they’re signed by coach Wooden. I practiced a whole week in my John Wooden shoes, and the equipment manager was about to pitch a fit because we’ve got to wear Adidas, and I said no, I’m having issues with Adidas. We were practicing on the turf and this was my first time being on the turf; we’re playing up in Seattle and everything was going against us. And that day I set a school record, and I had John Wooden’s shoes. It was unbelievable.”
Theotis was inducted into the UCLA Hall of Fame in November, 2011, as the now-seventh all-time leading rusher in school history.
“You’re talking about some great names, some great coaches and players, from Jackie Robinson to John Wooden, Dick Vermeil, Bill Walton, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar,” said Brown on his induction. “There’s a litany of players and athletes that have come through UCLA, and I’m honored just to be mentioned in the same breath that they’re mentioned.”
As a second-round pick by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1979 NFL Draft, Brown would play his first two years with St. Louis before coming to Seattle in 1981. He immediately felt welcomed by his new teammates.
“When I got there the players took me under their wing,” Brown said. “Sherman Smith, who’s now with the Seahawks coaching staff, was very, very nice, and very talented. He was coming off a knee injury, and he exposed me to more than just the life and times of being in Seattle. It was my first time up in the Northwest area, other than playing in college. I lived in Bellevue and I had a great experience up there. The players were fantastic, from Eric Lane to Jim Zorn, Steve Largent, Kenny Easley and Manu Tuiasosopo.”
Easley and Tuiasosopo were also former UCLA teammates with Brown.
“It was a tight-knit group, and they were riddled with injuries when I got there,” he recalls.
Brown rushed for eight touchdowns while in Seattle, and he played in the first three games for the Seahawks in 1983 before being traded to Kansas City, where he would finish his NFL career in 1984.
“You develop relationships, and the relationships I developed in the Northwest with the Jacob Greens and people like that have been outstanding,” said Brown. “And it’s because of those athletes right there in Seattle, they made me the better person that I am today.”
Brown has a number of fond memories from his playing days with the Seahawks, and a couple include a former teammate/current front office employee, as well as the team’s Director of Community Outreach, Sandy Gregory.
“The thing people don’t know about Paul Johns, Paul should have been an R&B recruiter. The guy can sing!” said Brown. “We went on a cruise together and it was almost like a Paul Johns concert, it was unbelievable! The good Lord blessed me with a great sense of gab, but He blessed him with a voice.”
Brown had a pretty good voice as well, which he was able to put on display for the fans. But not without an audition first.
“Up until about ten years ago, I used to sing the National Anthem at the Kansas City Chiefs alumni games,” said Brown. “But my very first game singing the anthem was the Lakers vs. the Seattle SuperSonics at the Kingdome in Seattle. I had to audition for the Sonics, and I auditioned in Sandy Gregory’s office. They had never heard me sing, and I said, ‘Oh yes, I can sing.’ This is 1983, and my first audition was in Sandy’s office, and she gave me a thumbs up. Kudos to Sandy! Motown never knocked down my door, but it was still fun.”
The Brown family football lineage would continue at UCLA with Theotis’ son Trey, who played defensive back for the Bruins.
“I’m so proud of him. He played for five years because he red shirted,” said Brown. “In five years he never missed a game or a practice. Guys miss practice because they have the flu or they’re nicked up a little or they have a shoulder problem, but he never missed a practice or a game in five years. That told me a whole lot about him.”
Trey Brown now works as a scout for the New England Patriots.
“He works the West coast and he visits the Pac-12 schools up and down the coast. He absolutely loves it,” said Brown.
Theotis now lives in Kansas and is the Director of Collegiate Recruitment for the Willis & Woy Sports Group, which is based in Dallas, Texas.
“When I was looking to work with a sports agency, I wanted someone with integrity, somebody that was honest and had a history and experience,” said Brown. “Honesty is so important now, because contracts are what they are because of the new collective bargaining agreement.”
Brown also appreciates being able to work with young people and make a difference in their lives. That involvement has included a former Seahawks player, and it has also allowed Brown the opportunity to keep in touch with his former Seahawks teammates as well.
“Jacob Green’s son in law, Red Bryant – we called him ‘Big Red’ – trained with us, and it allowed me to connect with Jacob when he came down to visit us at the Senior Bowl, and it was so much fun to see those guys and see that his family was doing well. I ran into Jim Zorn, and I got a chance to see Sherman Smith. It’s funny, you go to these events and it’s kind of like a reunion; you see guys that you either played with or played against.”
Because, to coin a phrase from a popular Disneyland attraction, “it’s a small world” in the NFL.
“The athletic world is a small world, it really is. Everybody wants to get in it, but not everybody can,” said Brown. “But once you’re in it, you’re in the club. There’s approximately 1,600 active players in the NFL, and for every 1,600 that are active, there are 16 million wishing they could have just that one opportunity, that one shot to see what they can do.”