This story originally appeared in The Eagle on Sept. 26, 2010.
SOLOMON – Forty years after his death, people are still eager to brag about Marvin Brown Jr.
Showing off didn’t fit Brown’s style, a trait that enhanced his popularity in Solomon, a small town 17 miles east of Salina on I-70.
“Whatever you say in the article about Marvin, it won’t be bragging,” said Ray Eisenhauer, a long-time Solomon resident. “He was that good.”
Never miss a local story.
His parents gave him a football for his first toy. Marvin Brown Sr., who also played running back at Solomon, put the child’s life on track with that gift. Marvin Brown Jr. hit and played outfield well enough that the American Legion baseball team from Salina broke tradition and recruited a player from a small town.
“There will never be another Marv,” said his sister, Connie Avery.
Brown, 19, was one of 31 people, including 14 Wichita State football players, killed in a plane crash on Oct. 2, 1970, near Silver Plume, Colo. Eight players and a co-pilot survived.
The years after the crash left many people wondering where their loved ones would be today. For Brown, a running back who started as a sophomore at WSU, the future seemed clear. He would run hard, gain a lot of yards and never pop off.
“He was just a tough, hard-nosed running back,” teammate John Yeros said. “There was no ego. He didn’t dress flashy. He didn’t act flashy.”
Teammates say Brown ran with a vision and toughness meant for the NFL. The Buffalo Bills picked running back Randy Jackson, a survivor of the crash who died from cancer in the summer, in the fourth round of the 1972 NFL Draft. Brown, they say, possessed equal talent.
“He was an NFL-prototype back,” said Kim Cocklin, a center for the Shockers. “He could run through a hole or cut on a dime.”
Brown seemed destined to coach at Solomon when his playing days ended. If so, the town would welcome back one of its favorite sons. The football field at Solomon High is named for him.
“When you would say Marvin was from Solomon, it made you proud of Solomon,” said Eldon Janssen, a neighbor.
Brown earned all-league honors three times and all-state honors twice at Solomon, playing quarterback and running back. He ran for 1,069 yards in seven games as a senior. He earned all-league honors twice in basketball and holds school records in the shot put (54 feet, 10 inches) and javelin (192-5).
“He could play any sport and do anything,” Janssen said. “He was the one you would want to model your own kids after.”
Kansas and Kansas State recruited Brown. A WSU assistant coach named Dennis Patterson outworked them. When Brown hurt his knee in his final high school game, other schools crossed him off. Patterson didn’t. The knee never gave him problems again.
“He chose Wichita,” Avery said. “He was really impressed by Dennis Patterson.”
Marvin Brown Sr., now deceased, watched his only son head off to college with big dreams. He watched his son play sports and guided his activities. They worked on carpentry projects together. When they weren’t working, they hunted pheasants, camped at Kanopolis Lake and fished for white bass and crappie.
“My dad and I had a better relationship after my brother was killed,” Avery said. “My dad was all Marv. Even my mother didn’t have much of a say with what went on in Marv’s life.”
The people of Solomon joined in that dream for the town’s No. 1 athlete.
In 1970, Solomon’s football team moved to the No. 4 spot in the state rankings. As a reward, administrators offered to take the team to a game at Kansas or Kansas State. The players wanted to go to WSU to watch Brown and the Shockers play Arkansas State at Cessna Stadium. The fans from Solomon brought a banner reading “Go Marv, the Solomon S Club has gold fever, too.”
Former Solomon principal Clyde Venneberg said Brown wasn’t Solomon’s most popular student, but he was the most respected. He made good grades, worked hard and didn’t use his status as a star athlete to bully or take shortcuts.
“If I had 135 students like him, I would have had an easy deal,” Venneberg said.
WSU lost to Arkansas State 53-14, in front of a record crowd of 30,055. Brown rewarded the Solomon fans by gaining 72 yards on 14 carries and coaches named him WSU’s offensive player of the week.
Two weeks later, the Shockers prepared to travel to Logan, Utah for a game against Utah State.
“He called home the day before and was talking about home,” Avery said. “He told dad he didn’t want to fly over the mountains. Did he have a premonition about flying over those mountains?”
Brown, along with the other starters, flew on the “Gold” plane on Oct. 2. After refueling in Denver, the pilots changed the flight plan to give the passengers a scenic trip through the Rocky Mountains. The plane, overloaded with equipment, flew into a box canyon and could not pull up. It crashed around 1 p.m. on Mount Trelease, about 40 miles west of Denver.
The “Black” plane followed the original flight plan and landed in Logan.
Avery calls that week a blur. The family sent in dental records. It wasn’t until two days later, while at the memorial service, that his body was identified and his death confirmed. Brown, who turned 19 on Oct. 1, was buried seven days later. Mourners packed the Presbyterian Church.
Brown’s helmet, broken earlier in the season, rested on his casket.
The death robbed Marvin Brown Sr. of his spark, friends say. He poured some of his love into a grandson, also a good athlete, but it wasn’t the same.
“It just took away his life,” Janssen said. “He was OK, but you could tell.”
His mother, Arbutus, is 90. Reliving the events of that week are painful, so her daughter speaks for her. The undertaker insisted on a closed casket for the funeral. That troubled his mother, until a month or so after the crash.
“One night she was in bed and thinking, ‘Where is Marv? Is he in heaven?’ “ Avery said. “God appeared to her, as clear as day, and said ‘Don’t worry, I have him in my hands.’ She turned over and went to sleep and knew he was all right.”