Irv Brown never met a man who didn’t like him.
The Last King of North Denver didn’t pass away Sunday. He lives on, coaches on, talks on, whistles on.
Dear Reader’s Digest: Irv Brown was The Most Unforgettable Person I Ever Met.
As a new, caustic columnist in Colorado in 1974, I attended a CU-DU baseball game to write about Brown, the Buffs coach who had recently served as a referee in the NCAA basketball championship game. I asked Irv if he’d do an interview afterward, and he said: “Come sit with me in the dugout during the game, and we’ll talk. The players don’t need my help.’’
Forty-four years later, Irv and I still were talking in the press box at a Colorado football game.
In the late ‘70s I persuaded Irv to become my partner on a daily radio talk show. A few months later, when KWBZ’s owner went broke, everybody on the station was fired. The next morning we met for breakfast. “What are you going to do now, Irv?’’ He said: “Substitute teach.’’ I said: “Why don’t we buy time on radio like the preachers?’’ “You’re crazy. I’m in.’’
We offered the young owner of the station $1,000 a week for three afternoon hours. The first month we each made $188. “I think I should substitute teach,’’ Irv said.
However, he stuck with it, and Irv was a lovable, unique luminary on talk radio for more than 40 years. A combination Yogi Berra-John Madden. Irv appeared on local TV shows (We did “Sports Hounds’’) and was the TV analyst for Nuggets broadcasts and high school championships. He was the color commentator for ESPN’s first live college football game and did bowling, basketball, baseball’s College World Series and an array of other sports for the rising network. One night on CBS college basketball he was supposed to analyze. The play-by-play guy became ill before the game, and, suddenly, Irv took over both duties. Irv was a teacher, a mentor, a motivational speaker, a husband for 62 years, a father of three sons, the head of basketball officials in two conferences at the same time, commissioner of a fledgling conference and a sensational salesman of radio commercials. (His butcher once traded meat for air time.) He was selected a Hall of Famer at his high school and his college, and by the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame.
If there were a Referees and Friends Halls of Fame, he’d be in the forefront of them, too. Everybody, even including college coaches, liked him.
As Irv shook hands, he’d ask the men and women where they went to school, what sport they played and what business they were in.
“I’m out of work,’’ one man said when we were doing a show at a restaurant. “Lost my job several months ago.’’
“How many kids you got?’’ Irv said. “Three’’ was the reply.
During a news break, Irv got on the phone and had the man a job before we continued to discuss the Broncos. Irv did the same for hundreds, perhaps, thousands of people in Colorado. He was genuine as a Monet painting, although Irv would think Monet had been a star shortstop at Denver South in the 1950s. Irv was the street-smartest guy I ever knew. “I’m not much of a book reader,’’ he told me. “I never read the college basketball rule book.’’
Yet, he was the best college basketball referee in the country for two decades, working in six Final Fours and five national title games.
In one championship, he gave the late, fabled Al McGuire of Marquette two technical fouls. He T’d-up McGuire twice in a regional March Madness game against Indiana and Bobby Knight. McGuire was peeved that Irv already had hit Knight with a technical and demanded one. Irv is featured in a photo in the Marquette media guide. Knight wrote about Irv in his biography.
Knight said Brown didn’t make a call for an in-bounds violation. (Irv told me years later his whistle went ‘toot,’ and no one heard.)
“Can’t you count to five, Irv?’’ Irv responded. “One, two, three, four, five, technical.’’
Knight annually came here to hunt and fish and, he joked, I think, “visit Irv Brown at the Colorado School of the Blind.’’
Irv officiated the championship game of Indiana’s perfect season. He officiated four of John Wooden’s UCLA championships, including Lew Alcindor’s final game, and worked Bill Walton’s first game. He officiated Adolph Rupp’s last game with Kentucky. He was the referee for North Carolina State’s (and David Thompson’s) upset of UCLA. Irv refereed thousands of games and had thousands of stories about sports.
Irv nailed CSU coach Jim Williams with a record seven T’s during one game.
He took a day off to speak at a sports banquet in Wichita, Kansas, and had to take two flights to get there. “How much you getting, Irv?’’ “Fifty bucks,’’ “5-0, plus expenses? That’s unbelievable.’’ “No expenses,’’ Irv said. “He’s a friend.’’
Too bad Will Rogers and Irv Brown never met.
Or maybe they just did.