Troy Brown remembers the first time the gangly kid stepped on the field.
“When I first saw him, we had questions about his size,” Brown said. “I had those same questions about me. Once I got to see him and watch him work and how he prepared himself to go out to practice, even though he was a third- or fourth-string guy at the time, I realized that he was probably going to be something pretty darn neat.”
The kid was Tom Brady. Brown met him when Brady walked into New England’s camp and started working with the receivers. Brown, one of the Patriots’ blossoming wideouts, saw the similarities.
Each was a low-round pick (Brady in the sixth, 199th overall; Brown in the eighth, 198th overall). Each had good college careers, but were lost in the shuffle of other successes – Brady led Michigan to two 10-win seasons, but each were immediately after the Wolverines’ 1997 national championship. Brown won a national title in college, but at Division I-AA Marshall.
They bonded over work ethic and passion for the game, the two small guys who would never amount to anything in the NFL.
It turned out OK.
Brown was one of Brady’s primary targets as he settled into the Patriots’ starting quarterback role, a slot he has yet to vacate 17 years later. From 2001-06, Brown and Brady helped New England win three Super Bowls; they reached another in 2007, with Brown only playing one game.
Brown called it quits after that, retiring following 15 seasons and, at the time, the most receptions and second-most receiving yards in team history. Brown still holds the Patriots’ career record for punt returns and return yardage, and is remembered as one of the players that turned New England from lovable underdog to juggernaut.
Back in South Carolina, where it all began, as he was inducted into the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame on Monday, Brown said it’s funny how his and Brady’s careers mirrored each other’s.
“It goes to show – it’s not the size of the school you go to, whatever prestige that school may have,” Brown said. “It’s just about working hard and having a goal and having a dream and doing everything you can to reach that dream.”
Brown won championships at every level of his career. He started at Blackville-Hilda High with a title in 1988, then led the Thundering Herd to a 1992 championship as an elite kick returner and receiver.
A kick returner for his first four years in the NFL, Brown caught 37 passes and never started a game. That changed in 1997, when he had six starts and 41 receptions. Brown caught 83, then what was a single-season record 101 in 2001.
Brown was honored Monday with a trio of former USC basketball stars (BJ McKie, Art Whisnant, Martha Parker-Hester), former Clemson basketball standout Greg Buckner, former North Carolina quarterback Buddy Sasser, former The Citadel baseball letterman Richard Wieters and the late Flint Rhem, who also starred for Clemson baseball.
These days Brown splits his time between his college (Huntington, W.Va.) and professional (Foxborough, Mass) homes, doing TV and radio work during the season and watching his sons play the other football.
“They’re soccer players,” he said. “It’s fun to watch them grow and excel in another sport.”
Being back in his home state triggered many memories, and a message.
“Being a young kid growing up in South Carolina, and always admiring the Gamecocks and the Clemson Tigers, I wanted to be a part of that,” Brown said. “It didn’t actually happen for me, but now I’m back here being able to celebrate with some of the greatest athletes to ever come through the state of South Carolina, so it’s definitely an honor for me to be here amongst so many greats.”
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