Brown played 15 seasons in the National Football League (NFL) at the cornerback position for the Seattle Seahawks from 1976 to 1986, the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1975 and the Green Bay Packers from 1987 to 1989. He was selected as a second-team All-NFL player in 1984 and a second-team All-AFC player in 1985. His 62 career interceptions ranks ninth in NFL history, and his 50 interceptions with the Seahawks remains a club record.
Brown also played college football as a safety and punt returner for the University of Michigan from 1972 to 1974. While playing for Michigan, compiled 526 punt return yards (11.7 yards per return), three punt returns for touchdowns, 174 tackles, nine interceptions, 202 interception return yards, and 15 pass breakups. He was selected as a consensus first-team defensive back on the 1973 College Football All-America Team and a unanimous first-team pick on the 1974 College Football All-America Team. He was posthumously inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2007.
In his later years, Brown pursued a career in coaching. He was the defensive backs coach for the Seattle Seahawks from 1992 to 1998 and for the Texas Tech Red Raiders football team from 2001 until his death in January 2006.
Brown was born in Akron, Ohio, in 1953. His father, Asa Brown, was a skilled rubber worker at a Goodyear tire plant in Akron. Brown played high school football at Garfield High School in Akron. He began as a quarterback before being converted into a wide receiver and defensive back.
Brown enrolled at the University of Michigan in 1971 and played college football as a safety and punt returner for head coach Bo Schembechler's Michigan Wolverines football teams from 1972 to 1974. Recruited to Michigan as a wide receiver, Brown played on both offense and defense for Michigan's all-freshman football team in 1971.
As a sophomore, Brown started all 11 games at the safety position for the 1972 Michigan Wolverines football team that compiled a 10-1 record and allowed opponents to score only 57 points (5.2 points per game). Brown had three interceptions in 1972, including two interceptions in one game against Minnesota for 82 return yards. He also contributed 11 punt returns for 189 yards (including an 83-yard return for touchdown against Navy), 73 tackles, eight pass breakups and two fumble recoveries to the 1972 Wolverines. At the end of his sophomore season, Brown was selected as a first-team defensive back on the 1972 All-Big Ten Conference football team.
As a junior, Brown again started all 11 games at safety for the 1973 Michigan Wolverines football team that compiled an undefeated 10-0-1 record and allowed opponents to score only 68 points (6.2 points per games). Brown also returned 14 punts for 125 yards (8.9 yards per return), including a 53-yard return for touchdown against Michigan State. He also contributed 55 tackles and two interceptions. At the end of the year, Brown was selected as a consensus first-team defensive back on the 1973 College Football All-America Team.
As a senior in 1974, Brown once again started all 11 games at safety for the 1974 Michigan Wolverines football team that compiled a 10-1 record, finished the season ranked #3 in the final AP Poll, and allowed opponents to score only 75 points (6.8 points per game). Brown also returned 20 punts for 212 yards (10.6 yards per return), including an 88-yard return for a touchdown against Colorado. He also contributed 46 tackles, four pass breakups and four interceptions for the 1974 Wolverines. At the end of the 1974 season, he was also a unanimous first-team selection to the 1974 College Football All-America Team.
In three years at Michigan, Brown compiled 526 punt return yards (11.7 yards per return), three punt returns for touchdowns, 174 tackles, nine interceptions, 202 interception return yards, and 15 pass breakups. During those three years, Michigan compiled a 30-2-1 record, tied for the Big Ten championship each year, led the country in scoring defense twice (and finished second the other year), tallied 11 shutouts and gave up more than 10 points only five times. Brown was posthumously inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2007.
Brown was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round (26th overall pick) of the 1975 NFL Draft. As a rookie, he appeared in 13 games, none as a starter, for the Super Bowl X champion 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers. Brown also returned 22 punts for 217 yards, an average of 9.9 yards per return, for the 1975 Steelers.
In the spring of 1976, Brown was chosen by the Seahawks in the NFL expansion draft. Brown joined the Seahawks in their inaugural 1976 season and remained with the club for the first 10 years of the franchise's history. He appeared in 159 games for the Seahawks, all of them as the team's starting right cornerback. In November 1984, the Seahawks established an NFL record with four interception returns (including returns by Brown of 95 and 58 yards) for touchdowns in a single game against the Kansas City Chiefs. After the 1984 season, Brown was selected to play in the Pro Bowl and was also selected by the Associated Press as a second-team All-NFL player.
In his 11 years playing for the Seahawks, Brown established, and continues to hold, franchise records for interceptions (50), interception return yards (643), and interceptions returned for touchdowns (5). In 1992, Brown became the third player inducted into the Seattle Seahawks' "Ring of Honor".
In August 1987, the Seahawks traded Brown to the Green Bay Packers in exchange for a future draft choice. Brown played three years with the Packers from 1987 to 1989, appearing in 44 games as the team's starter at right cornerback and registering 12 interceptions. In July 1990, the Packers placed Brown on the physically unable-to-perform list due to tendinitis in his Achilles tendon.
In 15 years in the NFL, Brown appeared in 216 games, 203 of them as a starter. He registered 62 career interceptions, which ranks ninth in NFL history. He also registered 698 interception return yards and five interceptions returned for touchdowns.
After retiring as a player, Brown became a football coach. He was employed as the Seahawks' defensive backs coach from 1992 to 1998. In 2001, he was hired as the defensive backs coach for the Texas Tech Red Raiders football team in Lubbock, Texas. Brown held that position until the time of his death in 2006. During his tenure, Texas Tech defeated Clemson 55-15 in the 2002 Tangerine Bowl, beat Navy 38-14 in the 2003 Houston Bowl, beat California in the 45-31 in the 2004 Holiday Bowl and lost to Alabama 13-10 in the 2006 Cotton Bowl Classic.
Brown was married and had two sons, Aaron and Sterling, with his wife, Rhonda. On January 10, 2006, Brown died in Lubbock after suffering an apparent heart attack while playing basketball with his son, just six days shy of his 53rd birthday.