It was one of those moments that makes you cringe as a Hawkeye fan. Mo Brown was sprawled out in the end zone at Jack Trice Stadium after making a dynamic touchdown catch.
Brown severely injured his ankle on the 17-yard scoring play, but it proved costly. The wide receiver from Florida, who paced Iowa in receptions in 2002 and established a single-season record for touchdown grabs (11), returned after missing five games. He wasn't the same player despite leading his team with six catches, 96 yards and a touchdown in the Outback Bowl.
Brown struggled with consistency at the Senior Bowl, combine and Iowa pro day the following spring. He went undrafted before signing a free agent deal with the New Orleans Saints, who eventually cut him.
One wonders what might have been had fate not intervened in Ames. Brown takes a long pause before giving his thoughts.
"Yeah, I don't know, I don't like to think about it…that's all behind me," he said in a telephone interview from his Oyster Bay, N.Y. apartment Monday night. "I'm working on the future."
Presently, Brown (6-2, 210) plays wide receiver and linebacker for the New York Dragons of the Arena Football League. The franchise moved to the Big Apple from Des Moines, where it was the Iowa Barnstormers.
New York scooped up Brown after Nashville released him following its camp. Brown was used to hearing "thanks, but no thanks" frequently since leaving Iowa for New Orleans two years ago.
Brown estimates that he's been in six NFL camps, three more in the AFL and additional two in the Canadian Football League.
"I don't even remember all of the teams," he said.
And Brown can hold his own in the intellectually. At the 2004 combine, he joined Kentucky's Derek Abney (34) as the only wide receivers to score in the 30s on the Wonderlic mental aptitude test. Brown notched a 30 when the average score for a wideout at that time was 17, according to Pro Football Weekly.
It kind of makes one scratch his head as to why Brown keeps plugging along. He certainly possesses the wherewithal to march down a different path.
"At one point, I thought about giving it up," Brown said. "I was going to go back (to Iowa) to get my degree. I've only got a few hours left. I'm still going to do that, probably next semester. My mother (Vanessa Brown) is the reason I've stuck with (football). She was still pushing me."
Brown focused on keeping the rejection from dragging him down.
"You never know why they let you go," he said. "Yeah, a lot of people think about what they could have done differently or better. But sometimes, it has nothing to do what you're thinking about. It could be a variety of reasons."
Brown finally found a home with the Dragons (10-5), who clinched a playoff berth last weekend and will host a playoff game May 21 at (2 p.m.). They played in front of 10,771 fans at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island (also where the New York Islanders NHL team plays as they are owned by the same people) in the clincher.
The team named Brown the offensive player of the game on Saturday after he hauled in four receptions, including two touchdowns. He also contributed a 25-yard kickoff return (on a 50-yard field).
"It's a lot more compressed (than conventional football)," Brown said of the arena game. "It's still football. You've got the basics of football, but you're just playing in an arena with walls and no sidelines."
Brown has accumulated 361 yards on 36 receptions and 11 touchdowns in 12 games. He also has averaged 21.3 yards on 28 kickoff returns with two scores. As a linebacker, he's totaled 27 tackles (20 solo) with two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble and a pass deflection.
Brown laughs when thinking about playing defense.
"It's a lot different with 300-pound offensive linemen blocking you. But it's fun. It's like little league." (the last time he had played on that side of the ball)
Playing for the Dragons sometimes feels a little overwhelming for Brown, however. And the reason lies nowhere inside the sidelines.
"We have fun with it," Brown said. "We talk about the Hawkeyes and the Cyclones. But that's passed us now."
Brown said he feels close to being the player he was at Iowa in 2002 and 2003 before the injury. During Iowa's undefeated conference season in '02, he rolled up 966 yards, averaging 20.1 yards per catch. He brought down a scoring reception in each of the first three games of '03 before banging up his ankle.
"That set me back a lot," Brown said. "I never got down on myself. I knew that I could play. I just waited for my chance."
Arena ball serves as an opportunity, but Brown hopes to hit higher heights.
"My ultimate goal is still the same. It's the NFL," he said. "Yeah, I want to use this as a stepping stone, but if I can't go to the NFL, I don't mind playing arena."
Playing football in places designed for hockey and basketball offers significantly lower monetary gains than are found in the NFL.
"It's a paycheck," Brown said.
The base salary in Arena stands at about $28,000 a season, Brown said. He heard top end salaries are around $150,000. The teams do pay for housing.
"It's not cheap at all living in New York," Brown said. "I'm just glad I don't have to pay rent."
Brown still keeps in touch with former Iowa teammate Jermelle Lewis and some others. He ran into Ramon Ochoa when he the Dragons played in Los Angeles a few weeks ago.
"He's still trying to play," Brown said of Lewis. "He was trying to go to NFL Europe. That didn't work out. I'm not sure what he's going to do next."
Brown hasn't set a timetable for his ultimate dream, saying "I just take it as it goes."
"I'm just trying to get my name out there," he said. "I just want to make plays. I'm going back home (to Florida after the season). I hope to get into somebody's (NFL) camp."