“I don’t really know how that happened,” she said. “It wasn’t planned.” Then there was studying, then dating, and then marrying in 1971.
You may know the name Jim Braxton, BS ’72, Physical Education, from his time on the Buffalo Bills, as a blocker for O.J. Simpson, or maybe because his name is on West Virginia University’s Braxton Tower. Or maybe from the muddy Peach Bowl in 1969 where Coach Jim Carlen debuted the wishbone formation for the Mountaineers.
Raised in Vanderbilt, Pa., and one of nine children, Braxton, nicknamed “Bubby,” was versatile in several sports. As a senior at Connellsville Area High School, he was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team, but he chose to pursue football in college because he believed that was the more stable choice, said Pam (Lincicome) Braxton, BS ’73, Physical Education.
In high school, he also played basketball and track, setting records in high jump, discus and shotput, according to the Fayette County Sports Hall of Fame, where he was inducted in 2012. At WVU in his junior year, he rushed for a team-best 843 yards on 199 carries, scoring 13 touchdowns for the Mountaineers, who were 10-1 and Peach Bowl Champions that year. In his senior year, he was a tight end and won first-team All-American honors. Throughout his college career he also kicked, finishing eighth in the country.
Terry Snively, BS ’70, Physical Education, was a defensive back for the Mountaineers and a teammate of Braxton’s. He remembers living with the rest of the team in what was then known as the Twin Towers – now Bennett and Lyon Towers – built in 1965. (Braxton and Brooke Towers were built in 1968.)
“He and I, we were going to go out for the baseball team,” Snively said of Braxton. “Coach Carlen thought that might not be a good idea, so we went to spring ball instead.
“He was a great guy, he had good personality, he always had that smile on his face, and he looked like he should be an offensive lineman instead of a running back.”
Jim Braxton was one of the founding members of the first Black Greek letter organization on campus, the Epsilon Chi chapter of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity in 1969. He and Pam would play bridge with students from around the world and listen to live music in the listening room at the Mountainlair.
He got the call from his agent that he was drafted to the NFL in the third round by the Bills, while waiting in Tony’s, a bar on Beechurst Avenue. He was a running back for the Buffalo Bills, rushing for 2,832 yards and making 23 touchdowns along with catching 140 passes for 1,426 yards and six touchdowns.
He shined inside and outside of football, putting people first. He welcomed new neighbors, insisting they play cards. “He was a kid magnet,” Pam said. “All kids loved him.”
In his early years with the Bills, he continued to live part of the year in Charleston, bringing football colleagues to youth camps that worked to keep kids in school as part of his job with the West Virginia Department of Education, Pam said. In Buffalo, he coached Little League. There was one girl who wanted to play baseball, which was unusual at the time. Jim said she could join his team. Pam got a call from the woman long after Jim died, and she told her that she had a child now, whom she called “Bubby.”
In 1978, Braxton was traded to the Miami Dolphins, where he played for one season before being cut. After his time in the NFL, Braxton managed a housing complex in Syracuse, while he and his family continued to live in Buffalo. In 1985, doctors at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center discovered a tumor. He would die of lung cancer in 1986 at the age of 37.
It’s sad that Jim didn’t live to experience the Mountaineer honors he received, Pam Braxton points out. In 1989, Braxton Tower was named in his honor. He was named to the West Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in 1990, the WVU Sports Hall of Fame in 1993 and to the inaugural class of the Mountaineer Legends Society in 2016.
His family includes a lot of Mountaineer fans, from children to nieces and nephews. Their fandom became more official this year as the Braxtons were chosen as the Ultimate Mountaineer Family.
“So many things have happened over the years that keep him alive,” Pam said. “And just out of the blue, someone will say, ‘You know, I remember when he did this,’ and those memories come flooding back. So he’s just never really been gone. He’s not forgotten.”