Brown Gives New Meaning To Underrated

Ian Logue
January 3, 2002 at 8:49 pm ET

The sick thing is that we knew this was coming all along.

The question is: Taking nothing away from Tom Brady, how is it that this former fourth-string quarterback, who suddenly became a starter this year, is heading to Honolulu in February, and Troy Brown won’t be? Some folks downplay Brady’s selection, the reasoning being that it serves more to underscore the dearth of top-flight quarterbacks in the AFC versus the justification of the great season Brady has had.

One has to wonder what more Brown has to do to get his due recognition. There are lots of NFL players around the league on the so-called “Pro Bowl Bubble” who, like Brown, deserve to go to the Pro Bowl but won’t be going. But leaving Brown off the galaxy this year further underscores his lack of league-wide recognition, and the shortsightedness of those who select the players to go to the Pro Bowl.

Before we launch into a vicious diatribe against this whole process, and the unjust done to Brown, we need to lay down a few qualifiers.

First of all, this writer thinks that the Pro Bowl is a bunch of nonsense. At best, it’s a television treat when it goes into the stands and on the beaches and shows off the newest bikini styles. At worst, it cost Robert Edwards his career. In between, you have a useless, benign, vanilla game involving two teams with absolutely no means whatsoever to portray the skills that got them there in the first place.

The rules of the NFL are greatly altered to suit this game, largely pertaining to game plans, blitz packages and wide receiver sets. It’s no fun to go watch an All-Star game in which it’s often illegal for Jamir Miller or Junior Seau to blitz the quarterback. Ditto for Lawyer Milloy or Rodney Harrison.

Watching the game just plain stinks unless you get lots of shots of the ladies in the crowd. Female readers might object to this, but this writer confesses to being a red-blooded male who likes the view from the Aloha Stadium stands. It remains the only sensible reason to watch the Pro Bowl.

Second of all, Brown himself probably could care less about this game also. This writer did a piece a few years back on the injustice paid to Nomar Garciaparra when he was shunned from the MLB All Star Game in favor of Derek Jeter and Omar Visquel. This writer opined that it is doubtful that Garciaparra even cared about the snub (he made up for it in ’99 when he started at Fenway over Jeter), and it is a good bet that Brown feels the same way too, being the professional that he is.

Besides, if Brown had his choice between a February trip to New Orleans and a February trip to Honolulu, and could have one or the other but not both, you can guess which one he’d choose. Just remind him that Dexter McCleon will be out there, waiting for him.

It is a fact that Brown will take a Super Bowl over a Pro Bowl any day. Brown will handle this with his typical aplomb, and say all the right things. Brown has made a career of saying all the right things, as he remains one of the finest interviews on a consistent basis in the Boston sports community.

So, fine. Let Brown say all the right things. Leave the complaining to the fans and the media, just like Nomie. Bring it on.

The four wideouts from the AFC selected ahead of Brown were Marvin Harrison (Colts), Tim Brown (Raiders, at least one T. Brown made it), Rod Smith (Broncos) and Jimmy Smith (Jaguars, not much variance in surnames). Let’s inspect these guys a little further, and see if they really rate ahead of Troy (versus Tim).

And please keep these words in mind as we explore: “what these stats don’t tell you…”.

Harrison is the only receiver on this list that truly rates ahead of Brown. He is simply the best receiver in the entire league, not just the AFC. Harrison is tops in the conference in yardage and touchdowns, and is third in receptions. What these stats don’t tell you is that Harrison is the most feared deep threat in the league, and defenses have to design their game plans around this fact (given the injury to Jerome Pathon, it makes Harrison’s numbers even more remarkable). Remember this little tidbit when we eventually get back to Troy.

Jimmy (versus Rod) has numbers this year. He is second in the conference in yards and receptions. His average and number of touchdowns are not near the leaders, and his longest reception this year is only 35 yards. What these stats don’t tell you is that Jimmy has not had as near an impact on his team like Harrison or Troy have had on theirs. If anyone ought to be off this list, it should be Jimmy.

Rod is the conference leader in receptions, third in yardage and second in touchdowns. What these stats don’t tell you is that Rod has had to carry an extremely heavy burden since teammate Ed McCaffrey went down with a broken leg earlier this year. Without McCaffrey to compliment him, Rod has still managed to post stellar numbers, and is one of the most truly feared wideouts in the league.

Tim might be the leading candidate for the “Why him and not Troy?” award, if not for the team Jimmy plays for. Paired with future Canton resident Jerry Rice, Tim has enjoyed a good 2001. But his raw numbers drop sharply off from the rest of the leaders. He has fewer receiving yards and a smaller average than San Diego’s Curtis Conway. His longest gain this year was only 46 yards.

Which brings us to Troy. He is fourth in catches, fourth in yardage, and has a 60-yarder as his best this year (Harrison’s best is 68). His raw numbers are right up there except for his touchdowns (only five).

But Troy should be his team’s MVP this year. He has replaced Ben Coates as the “go-to guy”, a point hammered home by the fact that Brown is close to breaking Coates’ team record for catches in a season. Brown is asked to make catches against defenses who are keying on him (like we said when talking about Harrison). He is also asked to carry the load of a number one wideout when his career highpoints have been achieved as the number three in the slot. This writer wrote a 1999 article entitled Third Down Brown, indicative of Troy’s glory days when Terry Glenn and Shawn Jefferson started.

In most every game this year, Brown has distinguished himself with his toughness combined with his incredible knack for making the big play at the right time. Broadcasters who don’t know a Matt Light from a Larry Izzo have been agog at Brown’s ability, and most of them have championed his case for a trip to Honolulu. Unfortunately, many of these broadcasters will chime in with something like “Well, Brown really should go to Honolulu, except that he simply doesn’t have the league-wide recognition!”

What more does this poor guy have to do? Catch twelve passes in a game in front of John Madden (We’d say Pat Summerall except that ol’ Pat might forget about Brown ten seconds after the game is over.)? Or Al Michaels? Obviously it didn’t work with Greg Gumbel and Mike Patrick. Maybe if Brown can make that stupid “All-Madden Team”, will that finally validate his impeccable work? Lord of mercy.

The only thing holding Brown back is this “publicity” angle. Brown is so quiet, soft-spoken and unassuming, nobody outside of southeastern New England knows who he is. Even across the AFC East, Brown’s pass catching reputation is exceeded by others. Talk to the Buffalo Bills or the Indianapolis Colts and they say David Patten. Talk to the Miami Dolphins and they say Tom Brady. Talk to the New York Jets and they say Fred Coleman.

Maybe the Cleveland Browns might say something, though it was a punt return that did them in. Yikes.

There are some players out there that are too quiet to ever be recognized. Brown is soft and smooth as silk, as polished as a coffee table, as beautiful as a mountain vista. You can’t look at Brown in any way other than respect and admiration. If Tom Heinsohn loves Walter McCarty (we’re still trying to figure out why), Patriot Nation loves Brown. They love him for everything he is, and everything he does.

Why the rest of the league can’t understand this is getting to be frustrating. Maybe that’s why Brown is so great. He beats you, and you don’t even realize he’s done it. Maybe Roberta Flack said it best, in that he kills you softly.

Harrison deserves to go. Rod Smith does too. Troy should knock off either Jimmy or Timmy. We say Jimmy.

But like we said, if Troy gets to go to the Big Easy versus the Big Island, Patriot Nation will take it. A Vince beats the heck out of a luau any day.

Oakland and New England could very well meet in the playoffs. Troy could say to Tim, “Have fun in Honolulu, bro, I’m headin’ for the Big Show!”

And Tim would trade places with Troy in a second.

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