logoby Scott Benson

How to describe a football player like Troy Brown?

Longshot. An eighth-round pick who went on to a 15 year NFL career.  

Mainstay. Every snap of that career was taken as a New England Patriot. No player has ever gained more yardage for the team.

Specialist. The team’s all-time leader in punt returns, whose most memorable special teams play may have been when he recovered – and lateraled – a blocked field goal.

Generalist. The kicking game, offense, defense – whenever and wherever he was called on, he held down every point of the proverbial three-legged stool. Even when his flame began to dim, he found a way to get on the field and contribute.

Playmaker. His career reached its apex when Bill Belichick made him a full-time receiver in 2000, and he went on to become the team’s all-time leader in receptions (and second all time in yardage with 6,366, to Stanley Morgan’s impenetrable 10.3K). A quick, slithery route runner and after the catch threat, he was the man who got the ball on third down (and first and second and fourth) for the team that went on to win New England’s first world championship.

Champion. Three catches on the game-winning drive set up Lombardi #2, before he played both ways in the Super Bowl XXXIX capper.

Teacher. Richard Seymour, himself a three-time champion and five-time pro bowler, said it; “he taught me as a player nothing is going to be given to you. You have to go out and earn it, and work hard for everything you get. He did that by example.”

Icon. Make no mistake; we love him first because he came through like a champ in so many do-or-die situations for the Patriots. But it goes deeper than that, doesn’t it?

Some athletes just resonate with people, and it may be because somewhere in their performance, we find the things we prize the most, even beyond sport.

A diligent and precise dedication to craft.

A confident and skilled hand.

A calm and clear head.

A passionate competitive spirit and will to achieve, even when the odds are against you.

A fearless and focused response when everyone’s depending on you.

Through it all, a loyal, unselfish commitment to family, community and the greater good.

Still, I think it’s best that we not look to learn many lessons from the NFL. I mostly want to enjoy the hell out of Sunday afternoon and leave it at that. Three hours (or six or nine) of entertainment before we return to our respective grinds. I think it’s probably best not to expect any more of its participants than that.

Besides, you know how sports are these days – money the average person can’t fathom, greed the average person can’t countenance, selfishness and eccentricity the average person can’t stomach, even crime the average person can’t comprehend.

We’ve become cynical about things like players and games (and everything else, but that’s another post), and for good reason. We’d only be disappointed if we weren’t.

I kept coming back to that thought this week, as Troy Brown ended his brilliant career, one full of unforgettably clutch plays that – thanks to the fruit they ultimately bore – will live on in league history, long after he and we are gone.

But it goes deeper than that, doesn’t it?  For me, and I expect others, it does.

I think Troy Brown’s legacy is that sometimes, our athletes are decent and virtuous men, not preening, shortcutting charlatans. Sometimes, they succeed not through pedigree and entitlement but through hard work, and attention to detail. Sometimes, they don’t shrink from the moment but instead emerge as real leaders, to inspire and even deliver us.

Sometimes, we can take them to our hearts, and not be disappointed, but uplifted. Because sometimes, it’s all real.  Every bit of it.

 In this day and age, thank God for that, and for the football life and times of Troy Brown, a man among men.