Like many of their fellow Arkansas Tech University alumni, Larry Brown and Jim Murphy pay forward what they received from Tech by volunteering for projects such as ATU Alumni Association breakfast during final exams.
“It gives the alumni a chance to talk and interact with the students,” said Brown. “It gives us the opportunity to wish them luck and let them know that there are people who want them to do well. The students have gotten to where they look forward to it after all these years. They appreciate it so much.”
And so there they are, most often in the Rothwell Hall lobby for at least one morning at the end of each fall and spring semester, just like they have for the better part of a decade.
“We thoroughly enjoy it,” said Murphy, a 1971 graduate of Tech and 2013 inductee into the ATU Hall of Distinction. “It’s a way to get back on campus and be involved. Both of us have tried to be involved in as much as we can because it keeps us young to come back here and interact with the students.”
The bond between Brown and Murphy dates back to August 1968 when they became Wonder Boys football teammates. Murphy was an offensive lineman and sophomore in academic status, but already an adult following a stint in the U.S. Air Force. Brown was a freshman, known by some as the ‘Marianna Mauler’ in recognition of his hometown and his relentless style of play as a running back.
“(Brown) came on to the campus with a bang,” said Murphy, “but he was able to follow up with that too, so we accepted him as a freshman. We were friends right from the start. He, Gerald Harvell and me…we were like the Three Musketeers. I had a car, so I was everybody’s friend because a lot of them didn’t have cars at the time.”
Arkansas Tech won the 1968 Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference championship. Brown became a featured back the next season and rushed for 1,118 yards on a 1969 squad that finished second in the AIC and ended the season on a four-game winning streak.
“Larry understood the people up in front of him,” said Murphy. “We’d open the holes up, and all he needed was a crease. We’d give him that, and he knew we would.”
During the final season that Brown and Murphy were teammates, the Wonder Boys earned the 1970 AIC championship.
Brown said that at a relatively small 205 pounds, Murphy was the ideal pulling guard.
“(Murphy) had great technique,” said Brown. “It wasn’t about being big. If you had good technique and you knew angles in that kind of offense, then you could do it. Size helped, but you had to have all the rest, too.”
Murphy’s blocking helped Brown complete his career with 3,603 rushing yards, a total that still stands as the most by an individual in ATU history.
It wasn’t the final time that Murphy would help his teammate find a path to success. Brown credits Murphy with helping him get situated in Russellville after he retired from a career that included stints in the U.S. Marine Corps and working for the Arizona Department of Corrections.
Brown also points to Murphy as a key figure in encouraging him to complete his bachelor’s degree from Arkansas Tech in 2010, nearly four decades after Brown’s final game in the green and gold.
“All those years coming back for Tech Homecoming events, Jim was always there and was always a friend,” said Brown. “It got to where I would stay at his house when I would visit, and we called it Jim’s Motel. The friendship just grew during that period of time…the 20-year reunion, the 25-year reunion. I became part of his group. To this day, he remains my best friend. I couldn’t have found anybody who could keep me in touch with Tech the way he has. This school gave so much to me when I was younger, and now I get the opportunity to give back.”
Photographed: Arkansas Tech University alumni Jim Murphy (left) and Larry Brown (right).