Reflections on the death of UNC grad, Colorado sports legend Irv Brown

 February 3, 2019


Terry Frei 


 Irv Brown. 

The call came from Joe Williams Sunday morning at 8:08.

Irv Brown, he said, had passed away.

It was horrible news.

Brown, a former University of Northern Colorado basketball and baseball player who became one of the most recognizable figures on the Colorado sports scene in an astoundingly varied career, was 83.

He had been ill off and on, but he recently was diagnosed with lymphoma.

In later years, he was best-known as a pioneering sports talk radio host, with partners that included Dave Logan, Woody Paige and Williams. “The Irv and Joe Show” was a Denver radio fixture on several stations for more than a quarter century, and Brown occasionally still sat in with Williams on Mile High Sports Radio after his official retirement in 2016, until his health slipped recently.

I did many guest-host appearances with Brown, usually substituting for Williams, and it always was an enjoyable experience.

But Brown was a lot more than a radio voice.

This is going to be a long paragraph and not even complete. Brown also was a seven-time letterman at Denver North High School; coached and taught at Arvada High School; was head baseball coach at the University of Colorado and Metropolitan State College; was a prominent college basketball referee, working six Final Fours; served as commissioner for the Colorado Athletic Conference; was the television analyst on Denver Nuggets broadcasts; was an analyst for many early ESPN events, everything from bowling to the College World Series; and was legendary for, it seemed, his far-reaching memory of anything and everyone in Colorado sports since, well, to use one of his favorite expressions, since Hector was a pup.

His self-deprecating sense of humor also was renowned.

Of his time at Arvada High, he would say: “I was an educator. Not a good one, but I was an educator.”

Of his time as CU’s baseball coach, and a highly respected one, he would say: “I made CU baseball what it is today. Extinct.” (CU dropped the program in a budget-cutting move.)

High-profile basketball coaches, including Bobby Knight and others with strained relationships with the media, would go out of their way to be on Brown’s radio show and tease him before eventually saying they respected him as a fair referee who called games by feel and judgment, not the rulebook — which he claimed to have never read.

When he did radio “remotes,” with the show at sponsors’ locations, he would ask anyone who approached him to talk during breaks for a business card, then plug them on the air in the next segment. He could make a hosting store’s assistant manager or a sports bar waitperson sound or feel like the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Or in his travels around town, courting sponsors and otherwise, he would collect business cards, stack them next to him on the show and as a break approached, pick one up and say, “Let me tell you about a guy …”

And Irv’s memory …

He actually remembered me as a high school baseball catcher at Wheat Ridge, including as part of the Logan & Frei battery, and each time he mentioned that when I was on the air with him, I became a better player.


 Dave Logan and Irv Brown in the studio in 1986. 


When I was on, he also loved telling (and retelling) the story of being transfixed as he heard Mike Burrows of the Colorado Springs Gazette at the Broncos training camp ask my father, Jerry, by then a team scout and administrator, about his World War II service as a P-38 fighter pilot in the Pacific Theater. Few knew about it. Mike, an aviation aficionado, drew him out, and Irv never forgot being among those listening, amazed.

Williams, known as the “Hit Man,” still does an hour daily show for Mile High Sports radio. Brown had been ill and Williams had braced himself, but he still was shaken Sunday when the news came.

“He’s the one that hired me and somebody like me today would never be hired to do what we did,” Williams told me. “That was a different time and a different era. There was something about Irv. He was always trying to get people jobs. That’s how he was. But when you talk about sports in the state of Colorado, I don’t think there’s anybody in this state who touched more lives than Irv Brown did. I saw it down through the years with everybody who was anybody. And he always remembered their names. I couldn’t get over that. They might have to jiggle him a little bit, but he’d come up with it. He was one of a kind. We all know that.

“It’s just a sad day. It really is. I wish it could have been longer.”

 When I asked Williams for a summing-up story about Brown, he said, “Oh, I don’t know which ones to pick. I have a million stories.”

Williams laughed, paused, and then said, “All these legendary college basketball coaches, every one of them, knew Irv and really respected him. I never saw anything like that. Usually college coaches, they’re the kings of the court, the kings of the school, they are the dictators and they don’t bow down to anybody. You know how they are. I’ve met most everybody through Irv, of course, and been out with many of them at Final Fours and regionals.”

Williams said the coaches would razz Brown, citing games of years ago and allegedly bad calls, but ultimately say they respected him.

“I remember talking to (Syracuse’s) Jim Boeheim,” Williams said. “He did tell me one time when we were sitting at a bar, ‘One thing about Irv, if we were playing at home, I knew we were in trouble. If we got him on the road, I knew we had a chance.’ And the coaches all felt that way.”

Logan, the former CU football All-American and long-time NFL receiver with the Browns and Broncos, is the football coach at Cherry Creek High, a talk-show host in KOA’s afternoon drive time, and the Broncos’ radio voice. Brown got him his start in the media.

Logan was devastated when he heard the news Sunday. I had texted him. I was not alone.

“I got up and my phone was blown up,” Logan told me. “That’s bad news…There aren’t too many people who have a bad word to say about Irv. He was just a great, great human. Gosh, I don’t even know where I would start.”


 Six degrees of separation. The Wheat Ridge Farmers in … . Dave Logan is fifth from left in the back row and his batterymate, Terry Frei, is third from right, middle row. Coach Steve Bell, at right in back row, had played for Irv Brown at Arvada and picked up his coaching methods — including the %$#&^% thumb drill. Logan got his start in radio after NFL retirement through Irv Brown, Frei sat in many times with Brown as a guest or substitute co-host.

Logan then flashed back to when they both were at CU, and Logan — who had been drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in baseball and also played basketball for CU — hoped to play baseball for the Buffs, too. For Brown.

“I had it already set up with coach (Eddie) Crowder and in the spring I was going to play baseball,” Logan said. “Coach Crowder got fired, Coach (Bill) Mallory came in and said, ‘You’re not playing baseball. You’re playing spring football.’ That was when I first knew Irv.

“Then later, Irv and Joe gave me my start in radio. I had called Irv when I retired from the NFL and we had stayed in touch quite a bit during my career. He said, ‘What are you going to do?’ I said, ‘I don’t know.’ … He said, ‘Why don’t you come and do a Super Bowl preview show with me.’ I did, an hour show, and he said, ‘Hey, the boss loves it, he wants to know if you can do full time.'”

Logan sat in with Williams when Brown was out of town, doing Nuggets television work, and that was his start.

“It sort of took off from there,” Logan said. “I loved the guy. We remained friends. I had such respect and love for him.”


 Joe “The Hitman” Williams and Irv Brown on the air. 

Logan and I both played baseball at Wheat Ridge for Steve Bell, who had played for Irv at Arvada and used most of Irv’s coaching strategies, including the infamous “thumb drill.” When I went on the air with Irv for a phone interview and he opened by asking how I was doing, I’d always say I was doing the thumb drill. He would always laugh. Jokes, his or anyone else’s, never got old to Irv.

Sandy Clough, currently host of a 9-11 p.m. show on KKFN/The Fan in Denver, has known and worked with Brown during their long and overlapping careers in Denver radio.

“Irv had a spirit and cheerfulness about him that was unique,” Clough said Sunday. “He always gave words of encouragement, whether you were a colleague or a competitor.”

My Tribune colleague, sports writer, Sam Mustari, knew Brown for many years because Brown’s family and Sam’s mother’s family were neighbors in North Denver. Mustari’s mother and Brown were only a year apart in age. Later, Brown made a habit of reminding Mustari how tough Sam’s Greek grandfather was.

Mustari recalled that Irv spoke at his athletic banquet at John F. Kennedy High in Denver.

“Irv left the podium to come sit on my mom’s lap,” Mustari said. “He announced you’d never meet a more beautiful woman who was also the toughest mentally and physically he’d ever met.”

Sam’s son, Tony, was one of the top high school wrestlers in Colorado history, and each time during his son’s career when Sam did a guest spot on “Irv and Joe,” Brown would start out by asking, “Is there anybody tougher than Tony Mustari?” And he’d ask that sporadically on the air for weeks.

Mustari said that when UNC faced CU in football two years ago, Brown slid down the press box front row to talk. Irv asked Sam if he had talked to his mother that day, and Sam responded that he had, and that he talked to his mother several times every day. Brown grabbed his cell phone and told Sam to call her. Sam did, Irv took the phone and talked to Sam’s mom he entire first half.

“That’s Irv,” Sam said.

I can only think of two times the good-natured Irv got mad at me. One was when I sat in with Joe during the period when Irv would play “21” with callers at the end of each conversation, and I teased him on the air that I’d assumed he just made up what happened rather than genuinely deal the cards. The other was when I did a book on the first NCAA basketball tournament, brought it to the studio for my next appearance with him, showed him the picture from the first title game (Oregon vs. Ohio State) in 1939 and said that referee in the background sure looked like him. (It actually did.) He didn’t think that was funny.

One of his major advertisers was the “Sunrise, Sunset” cafe. Once, I told him I had just run into former sportscaster Jim Conrad at the Wheat Ridge location and we ate together at the counter. From then on, in maybe 1,572 readings of the official copy, when he was running down the locations, Irv always would slip in, “That’s where Terry Frei and Jim Conrad go … they take it a little slower on the North Side.”

Whenever Williams or Brown missed a show, for whatever reason, the line on the air was that the absent host was “on assignment.”

Irv Brown didn’t leave us.

He’s on assignment.





Before there was “Irv and Joe,” there was “Irv and Pat” — as a young married couple in Greeley, at UNC

February 10, 2019 


 Terry Frei


Pat Brown and Irv Brown in the early days of their 63-year marriage, which started when both were college students in Greeley. 

Pat Hoyt and Irv Brown were high school sweethearts at Denver North and by their senior years at Colorado State College of Education, now the University of Northern Colorado, they were newlyweds living in the married student housing of the time  — a converted Army barracks area near campus.

“We had a little bitty college place right by the railroad tracks in Greeley,” Pat Brown told me. “Every time the train came by, the house shook. The floor rattled. It was a very interesting first year of marriage. It was a good adventure. We grew up there. We both loved Greeley and going to UNC.”


 Pat and Irv a bit later. 

If you knew Irv, the iconic Colorado sports figure who died at age 83 on Feb. 3, has been publicly mourned and saluted ever since, and whose life will celebrated in an informal public gathering at noon Saturday at the 1st Bank Center in Broomfield, you most likely knew Pat.

They were married 62 years.

They weren’t inseparable. Pat had a long career as an educator, most notably as an elementary school principal in Adams County School District 12. But especially in later years, Pat was there, too, at CU football games and radio remotes and in-studio shows and whatever else Irv was up to.

Yes, it was “Irv and Joe” — with Joe Williams as Irv’s partner — on the air.

But it was “Irv and Pat” in real life, going back to the 1950-51 school year.

“We met at North High School in 10th grade,” Pat said. She laughed and added, “I always wanted to date sports guys, and he was a sports guy.”


 Scrappy, high-scoring forward Irv Brown on the pages of the Greeley Tribune in 1957.

Was he ever. In many ways, Irv was the ultimate. I’m going to reprise something Williams told me on the day Irv died.

“(W)hen you talk about sports in the state of Colorado,” Williams said, “I don’t think there’s anybody in this state who touched more lives than Irv Brown did.”

Pat was in on it all along, including in their three years together as college students in Greeley.

After earning seven varsity letters at North, then the high school sports power in the Denver area — it was just the North Side then, minus the “Highlands,” “LoHi” and “RiNo” affectations — Irv headed off to Garden City, Kan., and junior college.

From there, Brown was ticketed to go to the University of Kansas where as a senior — if all had stayed on schedule — he would have been a basketball teammate of Wilt Chamberlain for Chamberlain’s sophomore season in 1956-57.

Instead, in 1954, he came back to Colorado, to Greeley and to Pat.


 Scrappy, hard-hitting outfielder Irv Brown on the pages of the Greeley Tribune in 1957.

“He went to Garden City for one year while I went to UNC,” Pat said. “He found that I was having such a good time, he transferred to Greeley really quick. He knew I was having a great time without him.”

It’s important to note that Pat interjected affectionate laughter in that, and also just about everything she said about Irv.

That’s the way it has been for the past week, with everyone, hasn’t it?

Irv and Pat were married after their junior years.

“He worked part time in a little place where they had malts and Cokes right there on campus,” Pat said.

(Irv as a soda jerk? I’d have paid to see that. “Here’s your malted. Let me tell you about a guy …”)

Pat added, “I worked part time in one of the school offices. We didn’t have any money, of course. I went to his games. That was his life. I was used to that, going back to high school and it continued through college.”


 Irv Brown as a senior outfielder in 1957.

Irv was a star in both basketball and baseball for the Bears. In fact, I’m sheepish to admit I underestimated the degree of that stardom until I started looking through the Tribune archives on and the bound volumes of past issues.

“I think his best sport to play was, I think, basketball,” Pat said.

As a senior forward in hoops, Irv averaged 15.1 points for the Bears in a lower-scoring era minus a shot clock. The Associated Press story announcing that Brown was a second-team All-Rocky Mountain Conference choice said: “Brown, despite his 5-10 frame, was a rugged man on the boards.”

Then as a centerfielder in his senior baseball season, he hit .376 in the regular season with 20 runs-batted for the RMC  champions.

The Bears beat the University of Denver two games to one to win the District 7 championship and advance to the College World Series in Omaha. There, the Bears lost to California and Notre Dame. But they got there.

Other than the train noise and the financial scrambling, Irv and Pat’s UNC stay was idyllic.

“Getting married and trying to start a life together, and our first son was born a year and a half after we were married, so it was like we all grew up together,” Pat said. “Greeley was a great place to live. We enjoyed it. People were so friendly and we were in that little college village for married couples. It was a great place to live. It was great to be in a smaller place like Greeley. It was a super place to be.”

Pat even played along with one of Irv’s jokes, that he had gone to college to be an educator and became one — but not a very good one.

 UNC by other names


Stories about the University of Northern Colorado’s history have to address the issue of what to call the school if referring to the years predating the 1970 name change to UNC. The easy way is to say it’s the school now known as the University of Northern Colorado. But for the record, here’s the history of the names, per theschool website:

1889 — State Normal School

1911 — Colorado State Teachers College

1935 — Colorado State College of Education, at Greeley

1957 — Colorado State College

1970 — University of Northern Colorado


“Loosely,” Pat said with a laugh. “Loosely, he was an educator. . . We both became teachers. He was a much better coach than teacher. They had him teach history, and he knew nothing about history. But at coaching, he was so good at it. They moved him to teach P.E., and then he was happy.”

Irv always had a soft spot in his heart for Greeley.

He and Pat both.