SLOAN COLUMN: Keeping a brother’s legacy alive
Former General Manager Jim Murray loves telling the story of how the Philadelphia Eagles selected Will Wynn with the 159th pick in the seventh round of the 1973 NFL Draft.
Murray knew very little about the 6-4, 245-pound defensive lineman from Tennessee State, but that didn’t matter. He just saw his name on the draft board and figured it was destiny.
“With the record we’ve had, how could we not draft a guy named Will Wynn?” Murray told NFL Hall of Fame journalist Ray Didinger following the draft, “I feel better just saying it - Will Wynn.”
The Eagles were coming off a 2-11 season in 1972 and were riding a six-game losing streak. Murray was probably thinking that as odd as it might seem to draft a player based simply on his name, it certainly couldn’t hurt. Considering the direction the team was headed, it was worth a shot.
As it turned out, Murray’s decision was a pretty good one. Will Wynn was more than just an interesting name.
Until a couple of weeks ago, I, like Murray, was not familiar with Will Wynn but was certainly intrigued by the name. It was Kevin Brown who filled me in on his late brother’s connection to Darlington and his success on the gridiron at the collegiate and professional levels. I soon found out Wynn, who died unexpectedly in 2013 at the age of 64, and I have a few things in common. He played football in the same area of Virginia where I grew up. We also shared the same birthday, Jan. 15, albeit 13 years apart.
Kevin asked if I could put a little something together to keep his brother’s memory alive. I told him I would be more than happy to do so.
The son of James and Gladys Brown attended and played football for Huntington High School in Newport News, Va. He signed with Tennessee State University and was a member of Tigers’ “Multi-Million Dollar Defensive Line,” which included future NFL players Ed “Too Tall” Jones (Cowboys), Joe “Turkey” Jones (Browns), and Shawney Winnie (Broncos). When he arrived at the Eagles’ training camp following the 1973 draft, not much was expected of him. He surprised them with his speed and a knack for rushing the passer, one of many areas in which the Eagles were deficient in 1972.
“I like what I see in that big kid,” defensive coordinator Walt Michaels told reporters when asked about Wynn. “He’s quick and he’s hungry. He has the attitude I’m looking for.”
One of Wynn’s most memorable games was against Dallas during his first season. He sacked future Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach three times. On one of the sacks, Wynn lifted Staubach off the ground and body-slammed him to the turf. The Eagles won the game and ended an 11-game losing streak against the Cowboys.
Wynn’s reputation on the gridiron was built more around “having a nose for the ball” than inflicting punishment on opposing players. All told, he played four seasons for Philadelphia. He finished his Eagles career with eight fumble recoveries for 119 yards. He returned two of those fumbles for touchdowns. He played one final year with the Washington Redskins in 1977.
After hanging up his cleats for good, Wynn made his home in Philadelphia. He did return quite often to his family’s home on Pocket Road in Darlington. During his playing days in college and the NFL, he would always come home at Christmas and during the offseason.
He spent even more time in Darlington following his retirement.
Roosevelt Scott remembers his old friend with great fondness.
“Will was a great guy,” said Scott. “He was a very humble and giving person. He helped out a lot of people and spent a lot of time with the kids. “
He remembered one of Will’s favorite hangouts when he came back to Darlington was Mabel’s Chicken Shack.
“Oh, Mabel loved Will,” recalled Scott. “He would sit there and talk and tell jokes and Mabel would just laugh. He had an appetite too. Will was the only person I knew who could eat two of their hamburgers. Those were really big burgers. Back then you got your money’s worth.”
James Bradley played church softball with Will.
“He was a great athlete and a good man,” said Bradley. “He had a big smile was liked by everybody.” Brown said Will inspired him, his brothers, and others in many ways.
“I was glad I had him in my life to look up to,” said Brown in an interview shortly after Will’s passing in 2013. “I want future generations to remember him.”
My guess is the folks in Darlington who had a chance to meet “Spunky” surely will.
Contact Editor Bob Sloan at editor@florence newsjournal.com.