ARKANSAS SPORTS HALL OF FAME: Hidden recruiting letter pointed Brison Manor to UA

By: Bob Holt
Published: Wednesday, March 28, 2018
Former Arkansas defensive lineman Brison Manor is shown Wednesday, March 21, 2018, in Little Rock. Manor will be inducted into the 2018 class of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.
Photo by Thomas Metthe
Former Arkansas defensive lineman Brison Manor is shown Wednesday, March 21, 2018, in Little Rock. Manor will be inducted into the 2018 class of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.

Brison Manor earned junior-college All-American honors as a sophomore defensive lineman at Pratt (Kan.) Community College in 1972, but after the season he wasn't getting any recruiting attention other than from Kansas State.

Kansas State Coach Vince Gibson had encouraged Manor to enroll at Pratt -- with the idea he eventually would play for the Wildcats -- but Manor figured some other colleges would be interested in him as well.

Manor couldn't understand the lack of scholarship offers until his roommate, A.J. Jacobs, gave him a recruiting letter from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

Jacobs, a wide receiver at Pratt who later played for Louisville, worked part time in the campus mail room.

In this case, it was a special delivery Jacobs made to Manor.

"I'm grateful A.J. got that letter to me," said Manor, who is now 65. "It opened an opportunity that otherwise I wouldn't have known I had. That made a big difference in how my life has turned out."

If not for Jacobs, Manor might never have known about the recruiting interest from Arkansas. He might not have enjoyed an eight-year NFL career that included playing in Super Bowl XII with the Denver Broncos.

Without Manor's connection to the Razorbacks, he for sure wouldn't have made the Little Rock area his home for more than 40 years or be among the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame inductees this year.

It turned out other colleges were sending recruiting letters to Manor at Pratt, but he wasn't getting them because Kansas State wanted to keep him from signing elsewhere.

"A.J. found a letter to me from Arkansas and brought it to the dorm," Manor said. "He said, 'Look what I found over there when I was checking the mail.'

"Then he said, 'Man, you know they're keeping all your letters, don't you? It won't hurt you to fill this one out and send it back to Arkansas.' "

Manor did as Jacobs suggested and soon was being recruited by Arkansas assistant coach Lon Farrell.

The University of California in Berkeley also recruited Manor -- the Bears sent a letter to his home in Bridgeton, N.J. -- and Oklahoma State and Wichita State were close enough to be aware of him.

But Manor decided to sign with Arkansas for a variety of reasons.

He didn't have a car, and he liked the idea that at Arkansas the athletic dorm, practice fields and student union all were within easy walking distance.

Manor also liked the hills and trees in the area -- a welcome contrast to the flat, barren Kansas landscape -- and he especially liked Farrell.

"Lon Farrell was honest," Manor said. "You felt when he was talking to you that you could trust him. He took his time talking with you and did his best to explain things.

"I remember he brought a film of Arkansas fans at the game and calling the Hogs. That intrigued me."

Manor also was excited about playing in the Southwest Conference for a legendary coach, Frank Broyles, who had led the Razorbacks to a share of the 1964 national championship and several bowl games.

But watching Arkansas play in the 1960s, Manor said, he couldn't imagine himself ever going there.

"I said at the time, 'I'll never go to Arkansas because they don't have any black players,' " Manor said. "But times change."

Jon Richardson became the first black football player at Arkansas in 1969.

Manor was part of the 1973 recruiting class with 13 black players, including linebacker Dennis Winston, who was a two-time Super Bowl winner with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"It was a special class," Winston said in a 2012 interview. "I think all of us knew then we were helping change something here, and now things have changed completely."

Manor said Arkansas players weren't divided along racial lines.

"When we went out there on the field, there wasn't any black or white," he said. "It was the other team against us. We were all Razorbacks, and we were trying to win as a team."

Manor, an investment broker for Crews and Associates in Little Rock, said many black players who followed his class to Arkansas have expressed their thanks.

"They've said, 'If it hadn't been for guys like you, I wouldn't have had an opportunity to play at Arkansas,' " Manor said. "I'm proud of that."

Manor won a starting job at defensive tackle in his first week of preseason practice with the Razorbacks. He was 6-4 and 250 pounds -- big in those days -- and had speed and quickness to go with his size.

Wrestling in high school and at Pratt helped Manor with his football moves.

"When Brison came in here and played for us, he was even better than what we imagined," said Harold Horton, who coached Arkansas linebackers from 1968-1976 and defensive linemen from 1977-1980. "He made an instant impression because he was bigger than what we were accustomed to having on our defensive line.

"His size caught our eye, plus his mobility and athletic ability. He really moved around well for a guy his size. He was a truly big-time player."

Manor had 91 tackles in 1973 and 82 in 1974 as a senior.

"Brison not only brought ability, but he brought a lot of character with him," Horton said. "He was very coachable."

Manor's position coach at Arkansas was Jimmy Johnson, the former Razorbacks nose guard who later as a head coach led the University of Miami to a national championship and the Dallas Cowboys to two Super Bowl titles.

"We used to call him 'Jumping Jimmy,' because he was always jumping around," Manor said. "He was everywhere.

"I learned a lot about playing defensive technique from Jimmy Johnson. The defense at Arkansas was a lot more intricate than it was in junior college."

The New York Jets picked Manor in the 15th round of the 1975 NFL Draft at 380th overall.

Manor was cut by the Jets at the end of training camp, and he returned to Arkansas and worked at a car dealership in the Little Rock area and continued working out in the hopes of getting another shot in the NFL.

A scout for the Broncos was impressed watching film of Manor playing in a preseason game and invited him to a tryout in Denver.

Manor signed with the Broncos, but a knee injury in training camp sidelined him for the 1976 season. Denver put Manor on its injured reserve list, so he stayed with the team and learned the 3-4 defense while recovering from surgery.

In 1977, Manor became a key part of the "Orange Crush" defense that led Denver to its first AFC championship while holding opponents to an average of 10.6 points per game and five total rushing touchdowns.

Manor didn't start that season, but he played extensively as a reserve for a unit that featured linebackers Tom Jackson and Randy Gradishar, linemen Lyle Alzado, Rubin Carter and Barney Chavous, and defensive backs Louis Wright and Steve Foley.

"We're considered one of the best defenses ever in the NFL," Manor said. "When your defense has a nickname, you know you were good.

"Teams couldn't run against us at all. We played reckless. We didn't really care about our bodies. We were flying all over the field. It was a fun time, because people were scared of us."

Manor primarily played defensive end, but he was versatile enough to fill in at nose guard in a system designed to keep fresh bodies in the game.

"I think where I made myself valuable is I could play all across the line," he said. "If somebody went down or needed a break, I was the first person to go in."

The Broncos played the Cowboys in the Super Bowl on Jan. 15, 1978, in New Orleans in the Superdome. It was the first Super Bowl played indoors, and Manor said the crowd of 75,583 sounded as if a lot more people were at the game.

"It was insane," he said. "I'd never been a part of anything like that."

Dallas fans got to do most of the cheering as the Cowboys won 27-10. The Broncos suffered eight turnovers, so the Denver defense played better than the final scored indicated. Dallas led 20-10 going into the fourth quarter.

"Even with eight turnovers, we were in the game until Dallas scored its last touchdown," Manor said. "It was still a thrill to play in the Super Bowl.

"Everybody in America was watching the 'Orange Crush' defense play the Dallas Cowboys. I can look back on that now and say it was one heck of an experience to be a part of that."

Manor continued to play with the Broncos -- and started every game at right defensive end in 1979 and 1980 -- until being traded to Tampa Bay before the 1984 season. He played six games for Tampa Bay, returned to Denver to play his final five games in 1984 and then retired from football.

In 107 games for the Broncos, Manor had 371 tackles, 16 sacks for 150 yards in losses, recovered 3 fumbles and made 1 interception -- against Seattle quarterback Jim Zorn in 1981 -- with a 16-yard return.

While Manor said he loved playing in Denver, he continued to make his home in the Little Rock area, where he has lived since 1975.

"Arkansas is a nice place with nice people," he said. "It's just kind of grown on me over the years."

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Manor played well enough as a senior at Bridgeton High School to catch the attention of college recruiters. Some scholarship offers were from nearby schools such as Rutgers and Lehigh, and some were from far away such as Kansas State.

The problem for Manor was that he hadn't previously considered playing college football. He said he wasn't prepared to take the SAT or ACT. He had a C grade average and didn't score well on the standardized tests used for college admission.

"I just didn't apply myself like I should have," he said. "If I had known in the 10th grade I'd have an opportunity to play college football, I'd have prepared differently. But it all came on me at one time."

Tex Robertson, a respected high school coach and athletic director in New Jersey who played at Bridgeton and then at Temple and in the CFL, served as a mentor for players such as Manor and advised him to take the offer from Pratt.

"He said I needed to go West if I wanted the opportunity to play big-time football," Manor said. "He said football is bigger out West."

Manor was inducted into the UA Sports Hall of Honor in 2011 and the Pratt Sports Hall of Fame in 2012.

He said going into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame hadn't occurred to him. He has attended more than 10 induction banquets but never expected to be the one honored.

"I always thought there would be a snowball's chance in heck that I'd be inducted," Manor said with a laugh. "So what's my reaction? Wow! That's my reaction to being picked for one of the state's most prestigious awards.

"I'm thankful that people appreciated how I played the game of football and represented myself and my family and the Razorbacks and the state of Arkansas."

Sports on 03/28/2018

Brison Manor at a glance

COLLEGE University of Arkansas, Fayetteville 1973-1974

NFL TEAMS Denver, Tampa Bay

POSITION Defensive lineman

HOMETOWN Bridgeton, N.J.

AGE 65 (born Aug. 10, 1952)

NOTEWORTHY NJCAA All-American at Pratt (Kan.) Community College who transferred to Arkansas in 1973. … Started two seasons for the Razorbacks and had 91 tackles in 1973 and 82 in 1974. … played eight seasons in the NFL and 113 games from 1977-1984, including 107 with the Denver Broncos. … Had 371 career tackles, including 16 sacks, with the Broncos. … Played in Super Bowl XII in 1977 as a part of Denver’s “Orange Crush” defense. … Now works as an investment broker at Crews and Associates in Little Rock. … Has lived in the Little Rock area since 1975. … Previously inducted into the UA Sports Hall of Honor in 2011 and the Pratt Sports Hall of Fame in 2012.

The first in a series profiling the nine newest members of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony is April 6 at the Statehouse Convention Center.

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