NFL Afterlife: A Conversation with Former Safety Mike Brown

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Former Chicago Bear and NFL safety Mike Brown remains a consummate fan favorite. A leader in the locker room and a player-coach on the field, Brown was a stalwart on the Bears defenses of the early 2000’s that would develop into the league’s best. After being drafted in the second round of the 2000 NFL Draft, Brown started all but one game over his first four seasons. In 2001, he was a turnover-inducing machine with five interceptions and two forced fumbles, earning All-Pro honors. Brown was subsequently named an All-Pro in 2005, despite his season lasting only 12 games due to a calf injury. That year was sandwiched in between three seasons where a litany of injuries kept him mostly off the field. Not one to succumb to adversity, Brown remained positive and served as a guide to the next generation of Bears safeties before productively finishing out his career in Kansas City in 2009.

I recently chatted with Brown about the ups and downs of his career, the current NFL, the dream job he now holds and the other dream job that could be on the horizon.

MJ: I see you’re from Arizona but you now live in Southern California.

MB: That’s right. I live in San Clemente where it’s basically 75 degrees every day.  I love it here. It’s laid back and I can just be a regular guy.

MJ: Why Southern California, in particular?

MB: My wife and I are from Scottsdale. So with my mom and my stepdad, we used to come out to San Diego all the time. I was like, ‘If I ever get a chance to move to Southern California, I have to do it.’

When we were going through the process of moving we just found this quaint little surfer town about 60 miles north of San Diego.

MJ: So what are you up to these days?

Basically I call myself a house husband. My wife, Erin, and I have been together since high school; we understand each other and we would talk about we were going to do when I couldn’t play anymore. I told her, ‘When I’m done, it’s all you. Whatever you want to do. I’ll hold down the fort.’  She has a lot of businesses going on, including running a restaurant n Arizona. She’s a grinder and she works so hard. She’s amazing.

MJ: How old are your kids?

MB: I have a daughter who will be 10 in August and my son is 7.

MJ: So what’s harder – being a house husband or playing football?

MB: Oh, definitely the kids. Being a dad, you’re trying to make them you, at least in terms of the things you feel are important. I love it. It’s very challenging because you get frustrated. But I have two kids who are really awesome and I’m excited to watch them grow up.

MJ: You were always a fan favorite in Chicago. How connected are you still with the city? How often do you get back?

MB: I’m not connected in terms of being there but I’ll always be a Chicago Bear. It’s given me the life that I’m enjoying right now. I owe it all to that organization and the city of Chicago. That city and sports, the whole vibe is really cool.  If you’re a professional player, I don’t care what sport you’re playing, you have to love it because they’re behind you 1000%

MJ: Now you were drafted in 2000, the second man the Bears took after Brian Urlacher. How was your relationship with Brian from the outset? Did you have any understanding that you would be two important cogs on what would turn into the league’s best defense?  

MB: I had no idea that was going to happen. The first time I saw him – he’s a tremendous athlete. My view – and I’ve said this before – is that I had the best seat in the house being right behind him [on the field].

Brian was my first roommate and we got along great from the start. He was the best teammate I ever had.  It was awesome to play with that guy – just the best football player I’ve ever played with.  And with all the notoriety he got and what he did for his team, he was a special athlete but an even better teammate.

MJ: After starting almost every game your first four seasons, you were injured a lot.  Talk about the mentality of always trying to overcome pain.  

MB: When you play football, pain is part of the process. I think it was Mark Schlereth who said, ‘It’s not about being hurt or injured; you have to play injured.’ There’s so much that goes on to do what these guys do. Just give the best effort and see what happens. That was my philosophy. I went out there and did everything I could do.

MJ: You sound very zen about it.

MB: Yeah. It’s not just about football; it’s anything in life. You just do the best you can and if it works out, awesome. But sometimes it doesn’t. When it doesn’t work out, it sucks. You cry. It hurts emotionally and all that stuff. When I look at it now, I’m like, ‘ Dude, you’re living in Southern California.’  At the time it sucks, but in the grand scheme of life it’s not that bad.

MJ: You were sidelined when the Bears played in the 2006 Super Bowl. I imagine that was a time that hurt emotionally.

MB: Devastating. That’s the game. When I think about it, I wish I could have played. But I didn’t and I can’t. When I look back on my career, playing in that game is the one thing I wish I could have done.

MJ: Do you still experience physical pain from playing?

MB: I definitely think I have a little more pain than the average person. But overall I’m fine. My head is fine – I get that checked out constantly.  Like I tell my wife all the time, ‘soccer has more concussions than football.’ Here in California, skateboarding is big and kids fall down all the time.

Football has taught me a lot and given me the opportunity to meet people I never would have otherwise. It gives a dynamic to a person that’s hard to explain unless you’ve been part of it. I think that’s why you see football players get defensive about things because it’s a small fraternity of guys.

MJ: Let’s talk current NFL a bit. How has the emergence of more athletic, tight ends that are integral to offensives affected safety play? Is the required skill set different now?

MB: Yeah, actually there is no safety play. Big corners basically. The physicality of the safety position has been taken out, and it’s probably necessary for the safety of players and everything. These safeties now have the figure out a different way to play defense. What you’re seeing if super athletic tight ends and receivers and they’re going to dominate the game until coaches can figure out a way to stop them.

MJ: I scrolled through your tweets and you are particularly awesome during Bears games. It’s almost like you’re a fan now, except with spot on commentary. How would you gauge the Bears for this year?

MJ: I’m super excited about it. They got a coach that is awesome. It starts at the top, so if they let him coach it will be sweet. Love that he’s a defensive guy and everything I’ve heard about him has been outstanding.

MJ: Do they have enough pieces to be a playoff team?

MB: You never know. Aaron Rodgers, to me, is the best quarterback in the league and they have to go beat him. Only time will tell.

MJ: How would you describe the current state of the NFL?

MB: It is what it is. It’s the best league going in the United States. I think it gets some unfair scrutiny just because of the money involved. Overall, the people in the league are good guys. All ex-players I know are good dudes and doing great. The negative gets the media clicks and a guy that’s doing great in life isn’t sexy. The guys I know had their lives changed by the NFL so I only have good things to say.

MJ: OK, let me conclude with a few quick-hit questions. What was your favorite moment in the NFL?

MB: To be honest, it was going to the Super Bowl. The whole thing, getting mass security guys, and just understanding how big it was was really cool. And second to that was being behind Brian playing. I had the best seat in the house.

MJ: Who’s the best current defensive back?

MB: I’m going to have go with Earl Thomas. He does a lot.

MJ: Best defensive back of all time?

MB: I’m going to have to say Ronnie Lott. Deion Sanders is in the conversation but I have to say Lott.

MJ: What do you see yourself doing in five years?

MB: Actually, I have a coaching internship I’m getting ready to start. I’ve always wanted to coach so I’m excited. We’ll see what happens.

MJ: With? 

MB: The Carolina Panthers. I get a chance to go out and see how the grind is. Coach Rivera, my coach in Chicago, is an awesome coach and he offered to have me come out.

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Melissa Jacobs

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