Santa Barbara High’s roster of athletic legends took its second big hit in less than a year when Booker Brown died Monday, July 18, after an extended illness. The longtime pastor and founder of a charitable foundation in Mojave was 69.
Brown, born in the cotton country of Wesson, Mississippi, moved west with his family as a child. He displayed his athletic talents at SBHS as a heavy-hitting football lineman; a big-bodied basketball player with a surprisingly soft shooting touch; and a power-hitting first baseman. He graduated in 1970 and went on to become a much decorated offensive lineman at Santa Barbara City College and USC.
In his first year at USC, Brown joined his former SBHS teammate, fullback Sam Cunningham. The Trojans capped their national championship season in 1972 with a resounding Rose Bowl victory over Ohio State. Cunningham scored four touchdowns while Brown and the rest of the line crushed the Buckeyes at the goal line.
Cunningham died last September 7 at 71. Brown was among the former Dons and Trojans who attended his memorial at Peabody Stadium in November.
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In 1973, Brown was named to six All-America teams and was offered a rich contract to play for the Southern California Sun of the new World Football League. After the league folded, Brown played two years for the San Diego Chargers.
“I’ve always enjoyed beating people up playing football because it’s legal,” Brown said when he joined the inaugural class of the SBCC Vaquero Hall of Fame in 2019. Off the field, he was an easygoing man described as a “gentle giant” by John Martony, who interviewed him at several SBCC football games.
“You couldn’t help but smile and laugh with him when you saw him,” Martony said. “He was just that type of person, always happy, always smiling, always laughing, always upbeat.”
That personality prevailed throughout his life. Russ Carter, another SBHS football player who was a reserve lineman at USC, said he and Brown became instant friends in the seventh grade. “We drove teachers crazy and had to be split up in the classroom because we couldn’t do anything but have fun together, all the time,” Carter said.
Brown is survived by Jacqueline, his wife of 30 years, seven sons, and 23 grandchildren. His foundation address is bookertbrownfoundation.com.