Terry Brown cracks NFL

The initial Brothers Bowl featured more than just Peyton Manning against Eli Manning in the NFL opener for the Colts and Giants on Sunday night. It included an African American who has climbed the ranks in the officiating world – line judge Terry Brown, a former Tennessee Vol.

Proudly wearing No. 43, Brown made his debut as an NFL official after spending four years in the SEC and seven years doing high school football and basketball in the state of Tennessee.

``I was very comfortable and happy working in the SEC,'' said Brown, a probation supervisor in Knoxville. ``The change came about when an NFL rep approached me after a ballgame and asked if I would be interested.

``As a competitor, you always want to reach the highest pinnacle you can go. Once that was presented to me, I began making preparations for possibly going to the NFL.''

Brown called games in NFL Europe for three years. He called games in the Arena Football League. He toiled over the rulebook because of the subtle – and sometimes not so subtle – differences in rules that govern the SEC, NFL Europe and the AFL.

With three sets of rules dancing in is head, did he ever get confused?

``Absolutely,'' Brown said.

But Brown persevered. And his bank account is thankful. But a fatter paycheck wasn't the only draw.

``The NFL has a retirement and pension plan after so many years,'' Brown said. ``That to me was more of a draw than anything. The pay is icing on the cake, and the prestige of working in the NFL.''

Brown said he initially began calling high school basketball games at the urging of friends and in an effort to stay in shape. Then, he added football in the early 1990s.

``At that time, working college football or the NFL was not even a thought,'' Brown said.

Brown was a TSSAA official for seven years before moving into the Southern Conference in 1998. He joined the SEC in 2002.

Some have suggested officials should be full time. Brown doesn't agree.

``Officiating is about making spontaneous decisions and there is no way you can train to be spontaneous,'' Brown said. ``Football is five or six months out of the year. What are you doing to do the rest of the time?

``There is only so much training you can do within one year to learn and enhance your ability to be a football official. So I don't necessarily agree that being a full-time official will make an official better on the field. The plays are still the same. It's still quick, still fast paced, you still have to make quick decisions. You rely on your eyes and your ability to see plays fully to make calls.''

He also knows the job isn't easy.

``You have seven officials on the field at one time trying to manage and watch 22 players at one time,'' Brown said. ``You're already at a disadvantage.''

Brown has had to make the adjustment from being a cheered college athlete to being booed by fans that once adored him.

``We're our own worst critics,'' Brown said. ``We blame ourselves more than fans ever could blame us. It is fun, but we have to have tough skin. Not everybody likes officials. Sometimes I think my middle name is boo.''

Brown said he has been disappointed in the lack of sportsmanship he has witnessed since becoming an official.

``You can never totally be prepared for what fans say and do,'' said Brown, a Tennessee defensive back in the mid-1980s. ``Fans have a tendency to take it overboard. Sportsmanship has become a total demise.

``We need to get back to sport being fun and get away from taking it so personally. It (officiating) is a tough job, but at least we have the gall and fortitude to go out and do it because we love the game, because we love giving back. That's why we do it. We don't do it for the money, because you can't pay us enough to go out and officiate and take that much criticism. We're supposed to be contributing to sportsmanship, and unfortunately, fans don't see it that way.''

Sometimes, players don't, either. Brown was a member of the 1985 SEC Championship team that upset Miami 35-7 in the 1986 Sugar Bowl. Brown said some functions during Sugar Bowl week were cut short because of the behavior of Miami players.

``Some of those guys literally wanted to fight us in public,'' Brown said. ``So the bowl people decided to separate us for the rest of our time in New Orleans.''

Brown recalled Miami players saying it wasn't a matter of whether Miami would win, but by how much.

``Miami certainly felt they were the No. 1 team in the nation that year,'' Brown said. ``However, we had something to prove.''

Tennessee proved it, but did so without Brown. A starting cornerback, Brown injured his ankle on a muddy New Orleans practice field several days before the game.

Still, Brown was confident UT would beat Miami.

``Absolutely,'' he said. ``I became the best cheerleader there was.''

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