The first time I saw my neighbor Brown, he scared me. Many.
I was 17 and I was watching the Houston Oilers play on TV when Brown started running over the defenders. I’ve always been a die-hard 49ers fan, but in 1993 and ’94 I had a second favorite because my childhood hero Joe Montana was now playing for the Kansas City Chiefs.
And watching Brown’s play, I knew this about him: It was a problem with my dreams of seeing Joe raise another Lombardy trophy.
The 1993 season was the year Brown kicked off the NFL season, passing 1,000 yards despite not being a season starter until Game 9. He was a major strength and reason for the Oilers’ 11-game winning streak, while capturing the AFC Central Division Championship.
As fate would have it, the Chiefs and Mixers met in the playoffs. Brown scored a goal, but the leaders won. Little did I know then that I would one day meet Brown again.
Joe will always be my favorite athlete, but looking back, I hope the Oilers would have won that game and Brown would have been the Super Bowl champion.
That’s how much respect the man Gary Brown had.
Above all he did in the world of football, this is how I will remember Gary Brown. He was an amazing human being who also happened to be great at playing and coaching football.
Unfortunately, Brown passed away on Sunday after a valiant battle against cancer. In the end, cancer took his life, but he never defeated Brown. And his spirit will carry countless people who have positively impacted his entire life on a daily basis.
Brown is considered by many to be the greatest footballer in the history of the region, and his biography is sure to be the stuff of legends. He graduated as a daredevil major at Williamsport and made the seemingly impossible become routine while playing there from 1983 to 1986. In his final season, Brown led Williamsport to the Eastern Conference Championship. Had county and state championships existed at the time, he might have led the millionaires to the state title. that was good.
Brown played at Penn State and, ironically, will be remembered forever by Nittany Nation for his play as a defensive back. As BYU and 1990 Heisman Prize winner Ty Detmer were trying to complete a belated comeback at the 1989 Holiday Bowl, Brown made the game play. Dettmer hit, stripped the ball and returned it for 53 yards to seal the touchdown as Penn State won, 50-39.
Two years later, the Oilers picked Brown in the eighth round and by his third year, he was one of the elite running runners in the NFL. He later topped 900 yards during his debut season with the San Diego Chargers in 1997 before adding another 1,000-yard season as the New York Giant a year later. Wherever he went, Brown was producing.
Brown retired following the 1999 season and returned home, beginning what would become the next chapter in his football career. He began training at his alma mater and Lycoming College from 2003-2005 before climbing the ranks to the Rutgers and then the Cleveland Browns in 2009.
Remember Peyton Hillis? He was a 1,000-yard rider in 2010 and became a popular Cleveland Browns champion and 2012 Madden cover boy as a result. His office coach was Brown.
Getting the most out of his players was a staple at Brown and he continued in Dallas where he coached from 2013-19. Many thought Darren McFadden’s best days were behind him, but when injuries ravaged the Cowboys in 2013, Brown once again helped him become a 1,000-yard driver. A year later, Demarco Murray set a Cowboys record before Brown helped Ezekiel Elliott emerge onto the scene in 2016.
Brown became a running coach in Wisconsin last year and reinvigorated the tradition of running that this program is so proud of. Braelon Allen ran for 1,286 yards and Chez Mellusi while Wisconsin went 9-4 and won the Las Vegas Bowl. No one knew this would be Brown’s training last season, but it was a convenient way out, as the reverse teacher once again worked his magic.
Look beyond the numbers, though, and you’ll see a real sense of who Brown was. He was a character beloved by his players, fellow coaches and fans. I’ve worked at Williamsport since 1999 and can honestly say that the first time I read and/or hear a negative review about Brown will be the first. And I can guarantee that the first time will never happen.
Brown had a special relationship with his players, and this often played a key role in their superiority. He knew the Xs and Os, but Brown was better at understanding people and what makes them go and he did it brilliantly.
Off the court, Brown was a loving husband, devoted father, and committed brother. Like many famous athletes, Brown has kept his life somewhat private. He’s done some great things for all the communities he’s called home but he’s done it without ever seeking the spotlight. He gave of his heart and in the end it was all of the heart.
I’ve never met Gary, but I’ve worked with his brothers Kevin and Ryan over the years. Kevin was also an exciting footballer and one of the best offensive coordinators in the area while training at Williamsport. Ryan was a key player in the 1999 Williamsport Basketball Tournament before starting on the 2000 and 2001 teams that won district titles and reached the state quarterfinals. Like Gary and Kevin, Ryan has also become a great coach, helping the South Williamsport girl enjoy one of the best seasons in program history last winter.
Again, though, Kevin and Ryan are defined more than they are coaches. They are good, and they give people away. They are all about Gary’s siblings.
It’s ridiculous. The man I once dreaded for what he could do with my favorite team turned out to be a kind soul.
As a good footballer and coach as he was, Brown has proven time and time again that he is a better person. Look at all his former players, teammates, teammates, family members and friends. They are his true legacy and what a wonderful legacy.
We live in a divisive time, but appreciating this man’s identity is something that unites all who knew him. So the best way to honor Brown is by imitating him.
If we could be a little like Gary Brown, what could be such an amazing place.
-Mass can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse