Monday, July 25, 2022


Brig Owens had such a full life that it takes a star-studded ceremony at the Kennedy Center to pay proper tribute.

The former Washington Redskins great, lawyer, Washington civic activist, corporate executive, agent and union official passed away last month at the age of 79.

Those who were fortunate enough to know Owens will gather Tuesday at the Kennedy Center to celebrate his life. It was a life worth celebrating. He was a force in the Washington community long after his NFL career ended in 1977.

Owens was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys out of the University of Cincinnati, where he was a quarterback, in 1965. He was converted to safety but was traded to the Redskins in 1966.

He would go on to become one of the greatest defensive backs in franchise history, with 36 interceptions, second only to Hall of Famer Darrell Green. Owens still holds the record for most interception return yards, with 686. He ran three of them back for touchdowns. He also recovered 10 fumbles, returning them for 143 yards and two touchdowns.

Owens was named one of the 80 greatest players in franchise history and has a place in the Ring of Fame.

After he was done playing, Owens finished law school and went on to work for the NFL Players Association. He devoted his life to the service of people.

Here is a list of some of those businesses, organizations and charitable efforts Owens committed to in his life here in Washington, according to his biography on the web site for the Military Bowl, where he was a board member:

Vice President Walter Mondale’s Task Force on Youth Employment, USA Telecommunications, National Bank of Commerce, Big Brother of America, University of Cincinnati President’s Executive Council, and Vice President and Board Member of the Leukemia Society.

Also, the Lombardi Foundation, NFL Players Agent Advisory Board, NFL Players Trust Foundation, National Board of Medical Examiners, Board Member of the Greater Washington Community Foundation.

Owens also developed a highly recognized Leadership Drug Prevention Program in Washington, D.C., high schools called Super Leaders. In addition, he has been a sponsor of the “I Have a Dream” program, which guarantees a student a college education if they stay in school, maintain their grades, and graduate from high school.

An All-American at Cincinnati, Owens received the NCAA Silver Anniversary Award in 1990 because of his commitment to the community and country.

That’s a life and more, right? What drives a man who has already had an accomplished career on the field to spend the rest of his time on this earth with such devotion to helping others?

“It was his faith,” said his wife Patty. “He felt to make a better world and people, you have to be personable with them, and especially young people.

“He was just good with everybody he met,” she said. “He enveloped his friends with respect and kindness and love. He was just that person — the best person I ever knew.”

Patty Owens said the Commanders have been “a big help in putting this (celebration of life) together, as well as the NFLPA and my girls, Robin and Tracy.”

I was fortunate enough to speak to Owens for my oral history, “Hail Victory.” He played for both Vince Lombardi and George Allen and spoke to me about playing for these coaching greats.:

“There was a lot of fear when Lombardi got here. He was a legendary coach. When a coach of that status comes in, you know there is going to be some housecleaning, so you worry about whether or no you’re going to have a job.

“He was everything that I expected. If you were afraid of him, you couldn’t play for him. He had his way of testing everybody. He felt if you could withstand his pressure, the games would be easy, and he was right. There were ways that he would do it.

“We had a lot of talent on the Redskins already, but Lombardi brought a sense of organization to the club, hard work and a no-nonsense approach to the game.

“George Allen was the first coach in the game that really challenged fans to back their home team, to really use the fans against the opponents. Sure, you had fans who supported their teams, but George said, ‘This is your team, and when we come out, we want a standing ovation when the team is introduced.’ We had teams come in and players would ask, ‘How come these guys give you standing ovations.’ That’s why a lot of players always wanted to come play in Washington, because of the way fans treated us, and they saw what kind of coaching staff we had. We became the team where players wanted to come and play. And we also became the team where other players did not want to come into RFK to play. We would go on the road, and our goal was to turn the fans against their own team, and cheer for us. That was the fun of it all.

“George enjoyed a challenge. He felt that he could change a person who had problems. He always felt a person needed a second chance. This was during the time when if a person became a player rep, he was either blackballed or traded. Well, we had about seven or eight player reps on our team at one point. George would pick them up because they were leaders. With all these leaders on the team, he didn’t have to do a whole lot to get players to perform.”

Brig Owens was one of those leaders — on the football field and in life.

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• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

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