Vintage Athlete Of The Month: Troy Brown
Always steady, rarely spectacular—that was the theme of New England Patriots’ wide receiver Troy Brown, who spent his entire 15-year NFL career in Foxboro. Brown was a steady and consistent contributor in not only the passing game, but as a punt returner. And on September 15, prior to the Patriots’ home opener against the Arizona Cardinals, Brown will be inducted into the Patriots’ Hall of Fame. BST&N takes this moment to salute Brown as our Vintage Athlete of the Month.
If steadiness was Brown’s career trademark in the NFL, there was no shortage of the spectacular in his time playing college ball at Marshall. He set an NCAA record for kickoff return average—29.69 yards—that stands to this day, as does his record of four kickoff returns for touchdowns. Still, he was not a highly regarded pro prospect and was available for New England in the eighth round of the 1993 NFL draft.
Brown didn’t see much playing time at receiver in his first two NFL seasons, though he was able to get involved as a punt returner. He began to slowly get more involved in the offense in years 3 & 4, as the Patriots were being led to prominence by Bill Parcells on the sidelines and Drew Bledsoe behind center. The team reached the Super Bowl in 1996 with Brown catching 21 passes on the season.
1997 was the first breakout year in a career that evolved slowly, as Brown had 41 catches for 607 yards, all the while continuing to return punts and enhancing his value to the organization through special teams work. ’97 was another playoff year for the Pats, as they won the AFC East and got the satisfaction of dispatching the Miami Dolphins in the first round of the postseason.
The next phase of Brown’s career began in 2000 and began a four-year stretch that earned him his place in franchise lore. He caught 83 passes in ’00 and became a prime option in the offense for the first time in his career. One year later came Brown’s high point—he made the Pro Bowl for the only time in his career, with 101 catches and 1,199 receiving yards. His 14.2 return average on punts was the best in the game. The team won the first of its three Super Bowls and appropriately enough Brown’s defining play came on special teams. In the AFC Championship Game at Pittsburgh he returned a punt 55 yards for a touchdown. It was part of a dominant day for the New England special teams, as it keyed a 24-17 win over the heavily favored Steelers and set the stage for an even bigger upset of the St. Louis Rams in the Super Bowl.
Brown continued to produce at high level in 2002, although for some reason his 97 catches weren’t enough to punch his ticket to Honululu and the Pro Bowl, and even though he didn’t have big-time numbers in ’03, his 40 catches for 472 yards still marked him as a key part of an offense that won the second Super Bowl title for the franchise. And as always, his ultimate value to the team was enhanced beyond the numbers by steady punt return work.
While Brown’s receiving numbers would decline sharply for the balance of a career that ended after the team’s historic 2007 season, he still made one more big mark on team history. In 2006 playoffs, the Pats were in San Diego for a second-round game. Trailing 21-13 with five minutes to play, Tom Brady threw an interception to Marlon McCree. Rather than simply go down and let his offense preserve the lead, McCree tried to keep running. Brown stripped the ball and New England recovered. Given a second chance at life, the Patriots drove in for a touchdown and tying two-point conversion. No longer able to rely on the running of LaDanian Tomlinson to kill the clock, San Diego gave the ball back to Brady who led the team to a winning field goal. For Charger fans, the play lives in infamy as McCree should have taken a knee. And it’s true that he should have. But we don’t discount Larry Bird’s brilliant steal in Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals against Detroit because it took a lazy pass by Isiah Thomas to make it possible. Nor should we discount Brown’s headiness and quick instincts in making McCree pay for his foolishness.
Ultimately, Troy Brown is just not a player you can discount, period. He’s not someone that’s likely to be remembered in other NFL cities because he was rarely spectacular. But when you build a 15-year career as a consistent part of an offense, a good punt returner, with a few outstanding seasons mixed in, you’ve become the kind of player every franchise needs to be successful. That’s who Troy Brown was and why it’s fitting that he takes his place in Patriot lore on September 15.