Whatever happened to ....

Suppose you're enrolled in one of Robert Brown's conditioning classes at ProSpeed Inc., in Herndon, Va. You're running behind schedule one day and you show up for one of the sessions 15 minutes late.<p>

If that ever happens, you might as well turn around and head home. Brown, the former ironman defensive end for the Green Bay Packers, preaches in his new profession what he once practiced on football fields.

"If you're more than 10 minutes late, you're sent home and you get charged for that session," Brown said. "In life, you want to have discipline and responsibility. You don't want to be late for work.

"I tell the kids in my classes, 'If you show up late, those coaches are going to get on you hard.' "

Strictly from an ability standpoint, this former standout from Virginia Tech will never be remembered as being on the level of Reggie White – who arrived in Green Bay the same year Brown was released. And he was not another Willie Davis, Henry Jordan or Ezra Johnson. Brown was simply that player who could be depended on to line up at defensive end every Sunday, ignore those inevitable aching knees and ankles, and give everything that he had.

"He's like a river," former Packers defensive line coach Greg Blache said of Brown in 1989. "He flows. He's always coming at you and giving everything he has. Some guys will spurt talent at you and then they'll dog it. They'll tease you. Robert Brown just gives you what he's got on every snap."

What the 6-foot-3, 278-pound Brown had was tenacity and integrity. He couldn't overpower the offensive tackles lining up across him or club them into submission the way White could. He didn't have the God-given ability to personally take over games, the way White could during his best years.

You almost never noticed Brown on the field, but the coaches he played for sure did. During the 11 seasons that No. 93 was digging in his cleats for the Packers, he consistently graded out as one of their most effective defensive linemen.

"A lot of times, the fans don't see the little things that help a team win, like fighting off blocks or taking on double teams or stepping up and making a play and I did a lot of the little things that went unnoticed," Brown said. "The coaches noticed because I obviously did what they wanted me to do. The biggest thing was being consistent and grading out pretty high – a lot of pluses and only a few minuses.

"I was never really a big stat guy. To me, if you hit the quarterback 10 times in a game, that's more important than getting two sacks. Hitting the quarterback 10 times in a game, obviously, that's going to rattle him a little bit."

What might have stood out most about Brown was the fact that he didn't choose to stand out. When Brown would burst through a crease and sack a Jim McMahon or Tommy Kramer, he didn't celebrate. There were no sack dances and no pulling out imaginary guns from a holster, as the Packers' Tim Harris used to do after burying a quarterback.

No, about all Brown ever did was line up again at defensive end for another play. All he ever wanted to do was earn his day's wages.

"Football is not a flashy game," he said. "You block and you tackle. I never understood the terminology as far as being flashy. I know some guys are more athletic than others and some guys express their emotions differently, but football is just a simple game.

"A lot of it is just fundamentals and doing the right thing and being in the right position."

Played under four coaches

That, more than anything else, explains why Brown has one of the longest ironman streaks in Packers history. During the time Brown was on their roster, the Packers drafted five defensive ends among the first three rounds of the NFL draft, but he still managed to keep his job under four different head coaches in Green Bay.

He played two seasons under Bart Starr, who made Brown the Packers' fourth-round pick in the 1982 draft. Ol' No. 93 remained a fixture at defensive end through four years under Forrest Gregg, four under Lindy Infante and one last season under Mike Holmgren in 1992. Surprisingly, he felt he connected best with Gregg, who was probably the least popular coach among players and fans of the four Brown played under in Green Bay. That appreciation was obviously mutual considering Brown became a starter during the 1986 season, Gregg's second-to-last in Green Bay.

"The thing that I liked about Forrest Gregg was that he was very direct, very straightforward," Brown said. "There was no gray area about his style of coaching or what he expected. And I got an opportunity to play under him.

"A lot of guys didn't like the way he was. They felt he was too tough at times, but that didn't bother me. I felt if you did your job, you didn't have anything to worry about."

In a situation similar to recently-retired Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino, Brown enjoyed his greatest team success at the beginning of his career. In Brown's case, he went to the playoffs his rookie year – the strike-shortened 1982 season – and never was part of another postseason again.

Instead, Brown can only fall back on selected highlights during the mostly dark years that preceded the Packers' 1990 resurgence.

"The 1989 season (when the Packers went 10-6 under Infante) was a very exciting season," Brown said. "I think we won four one-point games and it was just a very good season. We didn't go to the playoffs, but we were such an exciting team that year. Dan Majkowski had a breakout year, Tim Harris has a breakout year ... we signed a lot of Plan B guys and it seemed that the team just clicked that year."

But it was not to last. After subsequent seasons of 6-10 and 4-12, Infante was fired and Mike Holmgren was brought in to revive the Packers in 1992. Within five years, Holmgren coached the Packers to a Super Bowl championship, but Brown was long gone by then.

After playing the 1992 season under Holmgren, Brown was released by the Packers in the spring of 1993. Even though Brown felt he still had some quality years left in him, he sat out the 1993 season and retired after being released by the Indianapolis Colts during the summer of 1994. Somehow, it didn't seem fair that a player who dedicated himself as much as anyone else during the lean years never got to be a part of the success that was right around the corner when Holmgren arrived. "I wish I could have won a Super Bowl ring, but when you're replacing a coach every three to four years, you're pretty much in a rebuilding mode," Brown said. "During my entire career, I think, Joe Gibbs was the Redskins' coach and they won three Super Bowls. It seemed that in Green Bay, we were always rebuilding."

During the brief time Brown played for Holmgren, he could sense this was a man who was going to make a difference in Green Bay.

"It was just his positive attitude," said Brown, when asked what he admired most about Holmgren. "It seemed like he listened to the players. We didn't do a lot of hitting during the season under him, which shocked me because we did under the other three coaches I played under. And he did a lot of little things to make sure we were sharp mentally.

"You could still practice without banging each other up. His approach was a lot different. Everything was very positive. He was a unique guy."

Memorable moment

There were no farewell celebrations when Brown's career ended in Green Bay just a few months prior to his 33rd birthday. He'll never make the NFL's Hall of Fame and it remains to be seen whether he will ever be inducted into the Packers' own Hall. That would be all right with Brown, though. Just a simple handshake he received toward the end of his career was all the reward Brown will ever need.

It was after a 30-10 loss to the hated Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field on Oct. 25, 1992, Brown's final season. The Bears had dominated the Packers, just as they had done so many times during Brown's career in Green Bay, but something happened afterward the he will always cherish. As Brown walked off the field, Bears guard Tom Thayer approached him and extended a hand. "'I've been watching you over the years on film,'" Thayer said to Brown. "'You're a very underrated player. If you were playing with anyone else, you'd probably be in the Pro Bowl.'"

To Brown, that moment was maybe as satisfying as actually having played in a Pro Bowl.

"That meant a lot," Brown said. "During my era, Chicago dominated our division and they had some great players over there, some Hall-of-Fame players like the late Walter Payton. It meant a lot coming from such a great organization. It just caught me off guard and made me feel good."

Even though Brown played his final NFL game more than seven years ago, his work ethic hasn't changed. The quiet determination he had as a player has helped him become a success in the conditioning business.

Brown now makes a living running ProSpeed, a conditioning clinic which has clients ranging from children to professional athletes. Among Brown's most well-known clients are Aaron Brooks, a second-year quarterback recently traded from the Packers to the Saints, former San Francisco 49ers great Charles Haley and current NFL players Tim Johnson, Marcus Patton and Ray Crittendon.

Brown is obviously respected for what he does. Just as he was as a player.

"I think people who know football, people in the personnel department of NFL teams, knew I was a good player," Brown said. "You don't stick with one team for that many years if they didn't feel you were a good player.

"I was just a consistent, hard-nosed player. There was nothing flashy about me. I just took my helmet and lunch bucket to work every day."

Editor's note: This story appeared in the Aug. 12, 2000 issue of Packer Report.


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