Professional. That's the first word that comes to mind when thinking about Troy Brown. So it wasn't surprising to watch the Patriots all-time leading receiver walk away from the game he loves in such a classy manner during a touching press conference Thursday morning at Gillette Stadium.
Brown was joined by his wife, Kimberly, and two sons, Sir'mon and SaanJay, inside a media workroom decked with photos and a video playing in the background. Amidst wall-to-wall No. 80 paraphenelia, Brown officially announced his retirement after 15 memorable years in a Patriots uniform. Owner Robert Kraftled off the proceedings with a nice tribute to Brown, recognizing the wideout's many contributions to the team on and off the field.
Kraft then revealed the team's game Nov. 13, a Thursday night nationally televised affair against the Jets, will be 'Troy Brown Night' before unveiling a poster promoting the event.
Bill Belichick took over from there, rattling off several memorable Brown moments during a seven-plus minute testimonial. Belichick said it was "truly an honor and priviledge to coach Troy" and recalled in vivid detail some of the highlights from his career.
The the man of the hour then took the podium and amazingly made it through a lengthy speech as well as a question and answer period without breaking down. He even held his composure when confronted with the most difficult question of all, which came from Sir'mon to close the press conference: If you love the game so much, his oldest son asked through tears, why are you retiring?
"It's something that's out of my control," Brown began, both answering the question and delivering a message to his son. "I would love to keep playing but there comes a time when the man upstairs called God, you can't outrun him as much as you try to and want to. He just catches up to you and tells you that you're 37 years old. You're knee is supposed to be hurting. You're hip is not in great shape. You can't run as fast as you used to. There's a bunch of 22-year-old guys out there that are taking your place. I'm no longer 22 and in this game.
"There are very few places in this game for guys that are 37 years old. Therefore, you have to move on and create other goals and things to achieve and you try to push on and achieve those things. It's a sad day for me too. I saw you out there crying for me and I love you and it's going to be OK. Daddy's still going to be around football and he still loves football. If you want to play football he'll come watch you play and teach you how to play too. As long as you don't get mad at him when I coach you too hard and when I get on you too hard. That's just a part of the game. You get older and you're not able to keep up as well as you used to. Therefore you have to leave the game. I've got more time too sit down and watch it with you, whenever you want to. That's what happens."
That brought an end to the proceedings but certainly not Brown's legacy. As an overachieving eighth-round pick out of Marshall way back in 1993, Brown overcame long odds to first win a roster spot and then become one of the league's most prolific pass catchers out of the slot. It was this tenacity that first caught Kraft's eye shortly after he bought the team in 1994.
"I was thinking back that it was 14 years ago when we bought the team," Kraft began. "Since that time we have had three head coaches, dozens of assistant coaches and 820 players. There is only one player that has been a constant through that whole period, who was actually here before my family got here right through the end of last season. How lucky for us that Troy Brown, to me, is the consummate Patriot.
"What he did on the field and the way he conducted himself off the field, the fact that he always put the team first, that he stayed with the Patriots his whole career, he could have gone some other places and got more money and he chose to stay here. I think it's a great lesson for the young players on our team today who are worried about making the team."
Brown not only made the team as the 198th overall pick, fighting his way back on the roster in 1994 after Bill Parcellslet him go at the end of training camp two months earlier, but he ultimately became the team's leading receiver with 557 career receptions. He passed Stanley Morganfor that honor in 2006 and finished second to Morgan with 6,366 career receiving yards.
But chronicling Brown's immense achievements as a receiver don't even tell half the story. The 5-10, 196-pound football player became known as Mr. Patriot for his willingness to do whatever it took to win. This attitude led him to a career of special teams highlights and later a stunningly successful stint as a defensive back. That versatility and team-oriented approach drew Belichick's admiration.
"I think Troy, as I have talked about with our players, is the consummate professional," said Belichick, who earlier showed footage of Brown's career to his team before the players gave him a standing ovation. "A great story, a guy that didn't have a college scholarship and got the last scholarship at Marshall. When I was in Cleveland and I talked to Coach Parcells, I think it was the year after, it was probably in '94, he said, 'We've got this kid from Marshall, a return guy, I don't know if he is any good or not, but there are some things I kind of like about him.' Then, when I got here in '96 and worked against Troy coaching the secondary. There were some good receivers on that team, but in all honesty, we had as much trouble covering Troy as we had covering any of those other guys.
"When Charlie[Weis] and I were at the Jets and then I ultimately came back in 2000, I remember Charlie and I had several conversations about this guy who's really a good football player and he hasn't had the opportunity; what we really thought he could do as a slot receiver and as a deceptive big play receiver, his versatility in the kicking game. Troy has gone on to have a tremendous career here."
Belichick then offered some his personal favorite Brown memories, specifically his touchdown catch from fellow receiver David Pattenduring a win at Indy in 2001, his catch across the middle to set up the game-winning field goal in Super Bowl XXXVI, his catch on the final drive to help set up the winning points against Carolina in Super Bowl XXXVIII, his 82-yard touchdown catch in overtime to beat Miami in 2003 and his many punt returns including a touchdown against Cleveland in 2001 and in the snow against Oakland in the playoffs to set the stage for Adam Vinatieri's tying field goal.
But one story stood out from the rest for Belichick and that came on defense. The Patriots traveled to Green Bay without starting defensive backs Eugene Wilson, Asante Samueland Rodney Harrison. The Packers featured one of the NFC's leading receivers in Donald Driver. Belichick surprised everyone, including Brown and his teammates, by giving the task of covering Driver to the converted wide receiver. Driver finished with one catch for 3 yards during a 35-0 Patriots blowout.
"The only one that he caught, Troy wasn't involved in that one, but he had one catch for 3 yards on him against Donald Driver," Belichick recalled like a proud father. "In our locker room, and in the hallways, and the meeting rooms and so forth, we have pictures up from different games and different players. [Holding up a picture of Brown] To me, that picture, and I want to give Troy these pictures from the team, that picture epitomizes Troy Brown. Up against the best receiver in the NFC, in a game that three of our key defensive backs were out, he steps up and does a great job on him."
The picture showed Brown locked up in his defensive stance across from Driver. Belichick gave the photo, as well as two others, to Brown before leaving the spotlight for the wideout to enjoy.
An emotional Brown expressed his gratitude toward the Kraft family and Belichick while expressing regret that his career has come to an end. He also confirmed that he met with the Jets and coach Eric Manginibut passed up chances to play for the Patriots bitter rival. "I had the opportunity to do it, but it didn't feel right," he said, joking he didn't look good green and white again (his college colors at Marshall), and talked about how much it meant to him to be a lifetime Patriot.
"I will always be a Patriot, just not in uniform," Brown said proudly. "I've been invited by [the team]; I'm always welcome in the building. It's hard to let go. But I know, at the end of the day, I played this game the way it supposed to be played."
Truer words have never been spoken.