March 18, 2010

An aging wide receiver remembers and savors

— GLENDALE, Ariz. — Troy Brown smiled at the dumb questions asked during the Super Bowl Media Day circus Tuesday. He had to correct the wrong ones.

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New England Patriots wide receiver Troy Brown smiles while stretching out on the field during a team practice, in Foxborough, Mass., Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2007. Brown practiced for the first time since being activated Tuesday from the physically unable to perform list. Brown has been on the list all season. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

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New England Patriots wide receiver Troy Brown smiles while stretching out on the field during a team practice, in Foxborough, Mass., Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2007. Brown practiced for the first time since being activated Tuesday from the physically unable to perform list. Brown has been on the list all season. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

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What's it like, he was asked, to be playing in his fourth Super Bowl? He and Tom Brady and Richard Seymour and Kevin Faulk and some of the other Patriots have had so much success.

''Five,'' Brown said softly, making eye contact with someone too young or too new to football. ''I've been on five Super Bowl teams.''

He won't forget the Super Bowl wins over the St. Louis Rams, Carolina Panthers and Philadelphia Eagles. He won't ignore the loss to the Green Bay Packers, either. He was inactive that day in 1997 in New Orleans, sidelined with an injury.

''It wasn't that long ago,'' said Brown. ''Not to me. I still feel the sting. You see yourself so close to winning. Then you let a guy take the kickoff back and break open the game.''

Curtis Martin had scored on an 18-yard run in the fourth quarter. Green Bay still had the lead but the score had narrowed to 28-21. Then Desmond Howard returned the kickoff 99 yards for another Packers touchdown and the Green Bay fans began their celebration.

Troy Brown turns 37 in July. Injured most of the season, he's healthy but unsure if Coach Bill Belichick will tell him to suit up Sunday for the Super Bowl against the New York Giants. It may be Brown's last chance to wear his Patriots uniform with the No. 80 on its back.

''It's a numbers thing,'' said Brown, mindful that Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Donte Stallworth and Jabar Gaffney are the go-to receivers who fly downfield in the Patriots' offense. ''I look at the positives. Millions of people would kill to have my seat.''

Wherever that might be.

He has caught more passes than any other Patriots receiver. He has played 15 seasons for the same team.

Steve Grogan, the former quarterback and fan favorite, played one more year.

Now Brown is older than any of his teammates except linebacker Junior Seau. Older than most of his coaches, too. He looks around, he says, and his coaches seem like teenagers and yeah, Brown sometimes wonders how things turned upside-down so quickly.

Brown already had seven seasons under his belt with the Patriots when Tom Brady first walked into the locker room. ''I was like, who is this skinny little kid? He's thin like a pencil. Nobody had any idea who he was.

''I knew we had Drew Bledsoe, so (Brady) must be the backup quarterback or something. Some guy they were giving a shot. He wasn't a very flashy guy. The girls didn't think he was as cute as he is now that he's winning and rich.''

Brown noticed something else then. Brady was always in the weight room, working hard.

A kid, not yet a teenager, stood in front of Brown, a microphone in his hand and a television camera over his shoulder.

Did Brown know he and Brady shared the same initials and that somehow, that was a reason for the Patriots' success? Brown sized up the kid for a few seconds. You forgot Tedy Bruschi, Brown said, correcting again.

Brown and Bruschi are the only players left from the Bill Parcells era. Bruschi was a rookie in 1996, arriving three years after Brown.

More than Bruschi, Brown appreciates the turnaround from Patsies (2-14 the year before he was drafted) to Perfect Patriots. In 2001 he caught eight passes for 121 yards in the AFC championship game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He returned a punt 55 yards for a touchdown. He recovered a blocked field goal, ran 11 yards and lateraled to Antwan Harris, who went 49 yards for another touchdown.

One week later in the Super Bowl against St. Louis, Brown caught the pass that set up Adam Vinatieri's 48-yard winning field goal. It wasn't only that Brown caught the pass from Brady. With 21 seconds left he was able to get out of bounds.

''That game was unbelievable. It showed what a little unity on a team could do when you just feed off each other. That win united our team and our organization. It's been an incredible run and I can say I've been here for all of it.''

Age is catching up. Brown played in one game this season and suited up for the playoff game against Jacksonville. A balky knee and perhaps that numbers game with too many good receivers has kept him off the field.

That bothers him as a competitor, he says, but not as a teammate.

''We all fade away. It's part of life. But the way to do it is to do it gracefully.''

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

ssolloway@pressherald.com

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Additional Photos

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New England Patriots wide receiver Troy Brown celebrates as he scores on an 11-yard pass play against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the second quarter of their wild card playoff football game in Foxborough, Mass., Saturday, Jan. 7, 2006. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

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