By: Bob George/
September 26, 2008

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So much can be said about Troy Brown, but here is something which perhaps helps define Troy Brown the best.

Brown was inactive for Super Bowl XXXI due to an injury. There are many people who believe that had Brown played in the game, the Patriots perhaps win the game. The reason why is that had Brown been in on kickoff coverage rather than Hasan Graham, Desmond Howard doesn't return that kickoff 99 yards for what turned out to be the decisive play in the game. Graham was the nearest defender at the point where Howard turned on the jets, blasted by Adam Vinatieri and took the kickoff to the house after a Curtis Martin touchdown run of 19 yards closed the deficit to 27-21. Brown, most experts reason, would have been in position to stop Howard.

That's really something. A special teams gunner not in the game to make a play on a kickoff return perhaps loses the Super Bowl for the Patriots.

Mother of mercy, was there anything Troy Brown could not do?

Brown announced his retirement from the NFL on Thursday, and all of Patriot Nation forgot about the Miami Massacre and the Brady Busted Knee immediately. Though Brown's retirement was nothing of a surprise, instantly everyone went into a reverent and wistful mode. One of the most popular and revered Patriots in history was calling it a career, and where Brown is involved, the earth shook a little bit around Foxborough.

The most definitive element of Brown was his perception by all as a consummate professional. He was the Tim Wakefield of the Patriots, who would do anything asked of him to help the team win. You had Wakefield's 3 1/3 innings of relief in Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees, you had Brown playing defensive back the same year because the Patriots ran out of healthy cornerbacks. You had Wakefield closing for a while because no one else could do the job, you had Brown becoming the best punt returner in team history. You keep Wakefield on the Sox for 14 seasons because you need him on your ball club. You keep Brown for 15 seasons because you need him on your ball club.

The term "team player" is very cliché, but in applying it to Brown it loses its cliché perception immediately. "Celtic Pride" is viewed as corny by all outside of Boston, but in Boston it is dead serious. It is also dead serious when you apply "team player" to Brown, because if you had one man to use as an ultimate personification of the term, he is it. It's simply no joke, no overstatement, no timeworn descriptive item.

Brown retires as the leading Patriot in terms of pass catches, punt returns and punt return yardage. He is second in pass receiving yardage to Stanley Morgan. He holds the Patriot record for most catches in a game, with 16 in 2002 against Kansas City. He tied contributing analyst Steve Grogan in terms of franchise longevity, as Grogs also put in 15 seasons with the Patriots. Brown was the only player to predate Bob Kraft's purchase of the team in 1994.

Brown held a meeting with the team Thursday morning, and displayed all three of his Super Bowl rings to the players to further underscore how proud he was to be a Patriot, and how proud he was of his championships. Then he held a press conference, with both Kraft and Bill Belichick extolling the praises of Brown. Belichick called it "an honor and a privilege" to coach Brown. Getting sentiments like that out of the unsentimental Belichick really means something.

You all have your favorite Troy Brown moments. His catch on his back in 1996 against the Giants to help wrap up the division title that year. His punt return for a touchdown in the 2001 AFC title game at Pittsburgh, and his return of a blocked field goal later in that game (before lateraling to Antwan Harris). His 23-yard catch on the final drive of Super Bowl XXXVI to set up Vinatieri's game-winner. His 20-yard catch on the final drive of Super Bowl XXXVIII despite a broken nose. The first interception of his career in 2004, against Drew Bledsoe, of all people. The kooky touchdown catch from Vinatieri against the Rams. You could go on and on if you wanted to.

For all of you, your favorite Troy Brown moment could very well be his whole career. When you talk about guys like Dustin Pedroia who "play the game right" over at Fenway, Brown did the same in Foxborough. Never was so much wrought from an obscure seventh-round draft pick from Marshall in 1993, a man who earned every measure of accolades thanks to 15 years of hard work, perseverance and an unending commitment to doing everything he needed to do for the team. Why bother with individual moments when he has such a marvelous body of work to enjoy?

If you want to pick a real "favorite Troy Brown moment", you could very well pick 2008. He might have decided to end his career with the Jets. That would have been like Andy Pettitte accepting that "token" offer from the Red Sox in 2004 when Pettitte was a free agent but instead wound up going to the Astros. Pettitte simply could not put on a Red Sox uniform. Brown felt the same way. He wanted to retire a Patriot, and he made that clear in his press conference Thursday. He wanted to wear "nothing but Patriot red, white and blue". He never played a down in 2008, but his act of loyalty to the organization provides the finest valedictory of all.

The Patriots will honor Brown on November 13th, with the Jets in town. The game is on national television, and it's a sure bet that the NFL Network won't ignore the ceremony. No mention of number retirement was heard, but the Patriots would be derelict if they did not proclaim that no Patriot would ever wear number 80 again. How perfect that in the same year where the Red Sox honor an icon of longevity in Johnny Pesky by raising his number six to the right field façade at Fenway, the Patriots do the same thing with Brown at Gillette Stadium.

There will, or at least there should be, a run soon on ceremonies and retired numbers from this current bunch of Patriots who have won multiple championships. Let Brown be the first. Bruce Armstrong, the last Patriot to get their number retired, knew adversity that Brown never did, but Brown instead stands for something much different. He is in effect the gateway to the new tradition of Patriots and Patriot Football. When bards and storytellers wax poetic over the Patriots of Parcells and Belichick, the name Tom Brady will probably come up the most often, but all discussions should begin with number 80.

Brown may have gotten bingo five years ago in Houston, but the Patriots got bingo for fifteen wonderful seasons. Brown was an everyman in football, but one who managed to endear himself to everyfan. Brown's universal appeal to all who knew him and saw him play is perhaps on a par with Bedford Falls' affection for George Bailey in It's A Wonderful Life.

Brown said he doesn't think about adulation or his true place in Patriot lore. On November 13th, he most certainly will. 68,756 loving and caring fans will see to it personally.