Saturday, March 17, 2007

thanks, number 80

The New England Patriots' offseason acquisitions of wide receivers Wes Welker, Donté Stallworth, and Kelley Washington almost certainly spell the end of Troy Brown's career with the Patriots. The Patriots now have nine wide receivers (Stallworth, Washington, Jabar Gaffney, Reche Caldwell, Welker, Chad Jackson, Jonathon Smith, Bam Childress, and Kelvin Kight) on their roster, and their trade with the Miami Dolphins for Welker is especially significant for Brown because Welker is a similar sort of player: not a spectacular athlete, but he can return kicks, play out of the slot, and make key third-down catches.

Troy Brown is my all-time favorite Patriot. He is the team's career leader with 557 receptions, all with the Patriots, for 6366 yards and 31 touchdowns. He was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2001, when he caught 101 passes for 1199 yards and five touchdowns. He won three Super Bowls with the Patriots. All this after being an eighth-round draft pick (the NFL draft now has only seven rounds, so today he would be an undrafted free agent) and being cut twice.

In 2004 he agreed to line up at nickel back in the Patriots' depleted defensive secondary, severely limiting his offensive potential (he only caught 17 passes that year). He became a key contributor on defense, intercepting three passes during the regular season and shutting down receiver Brandon Stokely in a playoff win against the Indianapolis Colts. During the 2006 preseason he lined up as an emergency quarterback; when questioned about this move, Patriots coach Bill Belichick joked that he had lined Brown up at quarterback "to develop his legend."

I think Brown's greatest -- and most telling -- performance came in the AFC divisional playoff game this year against the San Diego Chargers. With five minutes left in the game, the Patriots were down 21-13 and facing 4th and 5. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady uncharacteristically threw a crucial interception to the Chargers' Marlon McCree. Brown, making what teammate Tedy Bruschi described as a "quick mental switch" from offensive to defensive player, instinctively ripped the ball out of McCree's grasp. The fumble was recovered by Reche Caldwell, giving the Patriots a fresh set of downs. New England went on to tie the score with a touchdown and a two point conversion, and then won the game on a late field goal. As teammate Richard Seymour said after the game, "He wasn't just a receiver on that play; he was a football player. Troy always comes up with plays like that. If there's one guy I look up to, it's Troy Brown."

Hear, hear. I'll miss you, number 80. If it were up to me, there would be a place for you in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Instead, you'll probably have to settle for a spot on the all-American Tool team.

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