RIP Irv Brown; To Know Him Was to Feel You Were His Best Friend

Brown Was a Rocky Mountain Sports Icon

If you ever meet Irv Brown, you are among the legions who considered yourself Irv's best friend.

Brown, who passed away on Sunday at the age of 83, never met a stranger. He never met a person he wasn’t ready to step up and help – for real, not just lip service. He never had a frown on his face. He loved life. He enjoyed it. And he liked people.

He was a talk-show host who liked sports, and looked for the good in everyone. There were no cloudy days in Brown's life.

I was a 17-year-old one-man sport staff at the Wyoming State Tribune when I first met Irv, back in the days when Wyoming would play homebasketball games on a portable court that was set up in the middle of the dirt in the old fieldhouse, where they also held rodeos, and practiced football, baseball and basketball.

Many a visitor would shake their head at the arrangement. Brown?

"It was great," Brown would later tell me. "It was unique. It created a different atmosphere. The dead spots. ... That's what would get me. The dead spots in the floor."

Coaches welcomed Brown to be one of the two officials working their game.

Well, usually.

There was a night he showed up in El Paso, and UTEP coach Don Haskins wanted to know, “What are you doing here?”

Brown smiled, and responded, “I’m officiating the game.”

The Bear, as Haskins was known, shook his head, and uttered, “I told the league office I welcomed you as an official anywhere on the road, but not at home.”

Oh, and there was the time Haskins raced out on the court to argue with Brown, glanced at the floor, and quickly implored the official, “You’re not going to give me a technical for coming out here, are you?”

“No,” said Brown, “just one for every step you take getting off the court.”

A Denver native, Brown earned seven letters at Denver North High School, where he played football, basketball and baseball, and graduated from Colorado State College, as the University of Northern Colorado was known back then, having played basketball and baseball before beginning his coaching career at Arvada (Co.) High School.

He was, without argument from anyone, the best basketball official of his time, and maybe ever. He officiated six Final Fours, back when the NCAA tournament was a 16-team affair.

Former big-league umpire Dave Phillips was a pretty good basketball official in the off-season himself, and once explained, “Irv Brown was my model. He knew how to handle a game. He knew how to deal with players and coaches. He never lost control.”

He was an awful good baseball coach, starting his career at the high school level, serving as the first baseball coach in the history of Metro State, and then taking over at the University of Colorado. It was a challenge back then considering the level of baseball play in the Big Eight back in those days, where the Buffs were always more than a step or two below the likes of Oklahoma, Nebraska and Missouri in terms of financing, but always developing quality athletes and more importantly quality men.

Long-time baseball scout/executive Bob Engle was an older collegian, having served in the service before attending college, first at Mesa Junior College in Grand Junction, and then the University of Colorado, where Brown gave his newest player the nickname, “The Fossil.”

Over the years, Engle would reach out to Brown, making sure whenever his work brought him to Colorado to touch base with Brown.

"Irv had a profound influence on my life and career and I am sure he had the same on many," Engle remembered on Sunday. "My wife Barbara and I had the opportunity to have lunch with Pat (Brown, Irv''s wife) and Irv a couple of years ago in Arvada and talk about old times. It provided me an opportunity to thank him for taking a chance on me at Colorado, allowing for an education and playing baseball for him.
"I remember him as a tremendous competitor who got the most out of his players. He always displayed a lot of confidence and pride, and was always interested in not only me but my entire family. I was an older student when I started college and understood his methods, perhaps, more than some of the younger players who may have been intimidated by him and his personality."

And Brown wasn’t a bad football coach, either. As well as the baseball coach at Colorado, he was an assistant on the Buffalo football staff of head coach Eddie Crowder. When Crowder stepped down as the football coach to focus on his job as athletic director, he asked Brown to become the head coach.

Brown said he was flattered, but as he would explain years later, “I was very much a part of the Colorado community, and being a football coach at that level. …”

Brown's son Greg is living testimony to father Irv’s aversion to the tranisent life of a football coach.

Greg’s coaching career included 16 stops – including three different times at the University of Colorado and a two-year stint at Wyoming (1987-88) -- over a 30-year stretch that began in 1981, and included time at the college level, high school level, the NFL and the USFL.

It was in the mid-70s that Brown would make the move into the world that most people today associate with him – the broadcast world. He did color commentary on the early college baseball and basketball telecasts of the upstart ESPN, and he was the sports guy on KHOW, back in the days of Hal and Charley, while having a full-time winter schedule doing college basketball.

I was working for UPI in Kansas City at the time, and when he would fly in to handle a Big 8 game, I’d pick him up at the airport. We would drive to Columbia, Mo., or Lawrence, Kan., or Manhattan, Kan. I would cover the game while he officiated. When we got back to Kansas City, we would stop by the UPI office, getting the latest teletype sports news, before heading to my apartment. Irv would then prepare for the early morning appearances with Hal and Charley, detailing the news from the world of sports.

Before long he had teamed up with Joe Williams, a frequent caller to Irv’s talk show, who Irv eventually invited to give up his job in the real estate world to join him as a co-host.

“I told him, he had an opinion on everything, and he called every day so he might as well get paid for it,” said Brown.

More than 40 years later, they were still partnering on the air.

It was one of those relationships that lasted `till death did they part.