For Richie and Erin, their second Christmas together was made easy by bowl game date. “Yeah, they both come to us, in-laws and parents,” Brown said. “No debate this year!”
Come to St. Petersburg, that is, where everyone is having a big holiday party together around a football game. The last Mississippi State game of Brown’s career, of course. The senior linebacker takes his Bulldog bow-out Monday afternoon, hopefully after holding another bowl championship trophy.
It’s something Mississippi State has gotten used to most post-seasons for Coach Dan Mullen, with four wins in six bowls. Besides…what senior doesn’t want to walk off a victor one final time? So concerns about MSU motivation for the St. Petersburg Bowl and Miami-Ohio should be moot.
“We just want to win the game, like every other week we want to win,” said Brown. “And we’re going to come to play and compete.”
This will be a competition. Oddsmakers and analysts both proclaim the Bulldogs strong favorites in this SEC vs. MAC matchup and not just on conference affiliation. They might ought have consulted Brown. He’s taken longer and closer looks at the Redhawks, particularly the second half of their season when Miami went from winless to six-straight victories and bowl-eligible.
“They’re a good team. As soon as their quarterback came back they haven’t lost a game since. They just had a rough start but found their bearings, they’re playing really good ball.”
Then again, Mississippi State also found its bearings in the last half of the schedule with wins over Samford, Texas A&M, and most of all Ole Miss. That wasn’t enough to score a winning record. But combined with other factors, it has kept the Bulldog bowling streak intact for a seventh season.
Meaning, Brown and classmates are the fourth group of Mississippi State seniors to enjoy post-season play every year of their varsity careers. So what if unique circumstances were required this time?
In fact these circumstances point to another item of program pride: consistent academics and a high APR score. “Our smarts kept us in there!” said Brown, one of 18 Bulldogs who can wear a special SEC graduation patch—in maroon-and-white colors—on their bowl jersey.
“But we didn’t want that to be our legacy as seniors going out,” Brown said of keeping the bowl streak going. “It was a tough season. But we were three plays from going somewhere else, you know. But it kind of shows the team we are. We put academics at a high standard around here and it pays off.”
Good grades are part of Brown’s own legacy. His stats are about as strong, too. If Brown can get credit for ten tackles, solo or assist, Monday he will reach an even 300 for his 52 varsity games. He has reached double-digit stops three times this season against South Carolina, Auburn, and Samford. So 300 is within reach.
Yet like many a middle linebacker, Brown’s career will be recalled more for consistency than anything spectactular. Well, that three-pick day against Texas A&M as a sophomore still stands out. Still it’s the nature of his particular position to make more calls than plays, and Brown has been just fine with that all along.
Why, he’s even been good with what became an annual rotation of position coach/coordinators. Brown was playing for Geoff Collins when he became a starter in 2014; then Manny Diaz in 2015. Now he ends the trail with Peter Sirmon.
Brown also leaves with good words for his last coach, who received plenty of critiques as a first-time coordinator running a different sort of system. “I’ve been high and low with all of them. I know the defense pretty well by now, I know how the game works,” said Brown.
“I can tell you Coach Sirmon is a great defensive coordinator, I have a ton of respect for him. He’s very down-to-earth with us and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the play calls.”
Of course somebody else will be making the on-field calls and adjustments next September. It doesn’t have to be a middle linebacker, Brown said, just the right one. Maybe older Dogs like Dezmond Harris and J.T. Gray, or some mid-career guys from among Leo Lewis, Gerri Green, and Tim Washington, or even some rising backups and redshirts like impressive Errol Thompson.
“There’s a few linebackers that will step up and be good leaders.”
For his part, Brown feels the responsibility of leading this 2016 team one more time to one more win. Had the career ended a month ago with bringing back the Golden Egg, that would have been acceptable. So would his 2-2 record in the rivalry, too.
But…ending in a bowl game is still best. This particular bowl date and location has certainly worked out best of all for the Browns with a happy shared holiday for everyone. Oh, and this includes Richie’s extended family he’s sweated and suffered and celebrated with for lo these many years.
“And that’s what we’ve talked about. We’re going to have fun. Coach Mullen does a great job of letting us have fun at the bowl games and not being all tight and tense. Hopefully we’ll play with confidence and have fun.”