'Gravedigger' the man of the hour

For 10 years with the Packers, Gilbert Brown earned the respect and hearts of fellow players, coaches, and fans in Green Bay, and on Sunday night they all had the chance to formally honor him in a farewell of sorts.<p>

In what was promoted as a celebrity roast, approximately 250 people gathered at the SC Grand banquet and convention center in De Pere, Wis.,(just outside of Green Bay) in celebration of Brown's Packer career. Brown's contract was terminated by the Packers on March 2, and it appears unlikely that he will return for another season.

That, however, does not mean that Brown is ready to close the book on the final chapter of his playing career in Green Bay. As the final speaker for the evening, the man affectionately known by fans as the "Gravedigger" gave Packers' head coach and general manager Mike Sherman a closing message: "If you all see Coach Sherman walking down the street, or if you all see him riding around in his nice little truck, you all tell him, ‘Man, just like the case on the wall with a fire extinguisher that you break in case of emergency, I'm in that glass, and I'm waiting."

Sherman was not unable to attend the evening's festivities due to a prior commitment, but offered his thoughts and favorite memories of Brown via a video tribute.

"Overall, when I think of Gilbert Brown, I think of a guy that was very special," said Sherman. "He gave of himself generously to this organization... Gilbert Brown possibly will not be elected to the Canton Hall of Fame, probably will be elected to the Packer Hall of Fame, and as far as my Hall of Fame goes, he was a talent as a player, but his character as a man is what I will always remember and cherish. What he gave to us was extraordinary."

Brown's generosity and relationship with the fans as an all-around likeable guy was a common theme amongst the speakers at the event. Brown always made himself available for autographs, pictures, shows, and appearances and became loved for doing the "dirty work" at nose tackle for the Packers, most notably during their Super Bowl runs in 1996 and 1997. With the occasional jab at Brown's weight, eating habits, and workout routine, Brown was spoke of in more complimentary terms on this night.

Among the speakers who spoke of such qualities were local media personalities, ex-Packer player and coach Harry Sydney, former University of Kansas strength and conditioning coach Fred Roll, Packers' defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, and Packers' game day radio broadcaster Larry McCarren. Video tributes, in addition to Sherman's, were played from several current Packers and former Packers Reggie White and Santana Dotson. Brown's immediate and extended family and girlfriend also attended.

While a choked-up Brown thanked his family to end the evening, Gbaja-Biamila and Dotson stole the show with their presentations. Gbaja-Biamila had to do some prying, but finally got a bear hug from Brown and offered these selected thoughts:

"It was truly an honor to have Gilbert Brown take me under his wing (as a rookie in 2000)... You never see too many people really get on Gilbert too hard because he's all heart. He's truly a gentle giant. In think that's why he wears the body suit... The body suit kind of gives him that intimidating look because without it, he looks like Garfield or something. But he truly is a gentle giant. I could always go to him for advice... Gilbert allowed me to spend that time with him, to hang out with him. I was just a knuckle-head rookie, and for him to take me under his wing just made me feel special."

Dotson's creative seven-minute video of Masterpiece Theatre-like production included one of his favorite memories of Brown:

"One time, I went to the stadium late one night to drop off some packages that needed to be mailed, and I heard over in the sauna a whole bunch of breathing - deep, heavy breathing. All the lights were off, it was about 7, 7:30 at night. Nobody's at the stadium. The stadium's completely empty, and everybody was gone. So I drop off these packages, and I hear in the background, ‘Huwh, Huwh, Huwh.' Of course, I put my investigative hat on, and I turned around, looked around, and it happened to be coming out of the steam room in the sauna. So I go over there. I tip-toed real slowly because I'm not sure what's going on in there, open the door, and Gilbert's in the middle of the steam room riding a bike the day before weigh-in."

All proceeds from the event, generated by a paid dinner, silent auction, and donations will go to "My Brother's Keeper, Inc.," a Green Bay-based, non-profit organization started by Sydney. It aims to mentor men ages 11 to 65 with any problems on their journey through life including such areas as relationships, goal setting, alcohol and drugs, and how to deal with different feelings. Among the silent auction items were autographed memorabilia from Brown, Packers' running back Ahman Green, and Gbaja-Biamila.

Note: For more on the Gilbert Brown celebrity roast, check the July issue of Packer Report.

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