If you ask any Miami fan, there are a boat load of names that they feel should be inducted into the Hall of Fame. In fact, you could provide them with players from any time period and make a case for them to be enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame, let alone the one foremost in their hearts. The 2018 ballot was released last spring, highlighted by a trio of ‘Canes who are past due for being inducted into the hallowed walls in the Atlanta home of College football memorabilia.
Later this year, the voting will begin to create the 2019 College Football Hall of Fame class. Hurricanes that headline the eligible list include Ray Lewis, who will also be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year, and Warren Sapp, one of the best defensive tackles—not only in history of the University of Miami, but perhaps in the sport during his prime. At the end of this year, former safety Ed Reed will become the newest Hurricane to be enshrined in the Hall, which will be just as sweet given that Reed will be eligible for the 2019 Pro Football Hall of Fame class as well. It’s difficult for another program to brag about forefathers of the game than Jimmy Johnson, Ted Hendricks and Russell Maryland. However, a name that has yet to get much traction for a push to the Hall is one of both Maryland and Sapp’s predecessors at defensive tackle.
That would be Brooksville, Florida, standout, the late Jerome Brown. It’s ironic that last year was the first year of eligibility for Warren Sapp to be named to the College Football Hall of Fame, since the man who influenced Sapp—so much so that he took to wearing Brown’s No. 99 and playing with the style and swagger that Brown displayed early during his college career—will not already have a home in the hall of fame. Brown’s play at Miami set the groundwork for many a Hurricane to follow suit. Brown helped pave the way for other Hurricane DTs such as Russell Maryland, Warren Sapp and Vince Wilfork.
One of the pioneers of the swag culture at Miami, Brown was as much a personality away from the field as he was a dominant force during game days. A looming presence around Coral Gables for the standard that he held for the school, Brown was the leader on the field that the team needed in the latter portion of his collegiate career.
Growing up in the small town of Brooksville, part of Hernando County in Florida, Brown caught a lot of attention with his play on the field. Soon numerous colleges would travel to his small town to see what all the fuss was about. A standout for his local Hernando High School, Brown was named a Parade All-American in 1983. With offers from schools across the country, Brown decided to attend the University of Miami, signed his letter of intent and joining the 1983 recruiting class.
Most true freshmen at the time hardly saw the field, yet Brown was among five freshmen to earn playing time on a National Championship roster. In a game against Oklahoma on October 19th, 1985, he sacked Troy Aikman, stacking up 14 tackles as a defensive lineman. Of course, as well-known as Brown was on the field, he became infamous for his actions away from the field. Who could forget when Brown led a walkout at a promotional dinner five days before the 1987 Fiesta Bowl? Before storming off with his teammates, Brown exclaimed, “Did the Japanese go sit down and have dinner with Pearl Harbor before they bombed them?” This walkout was not for selfish motives, as the ’Canes felt that their opponents, Penn State, took some liberties at the expense of Miami head coach Jimmy Johnson. As one of the outspoken leaders on the team, Brown was front and center during the days leading up to the bowl game. Despite Penn State emerging victorious, Miami’s defense held the Nittany Lions to 162 yards on offense, with Brown adding a healthy five sack performance.
That quality of stepping to the front of the line for the Hurricanes is one that Brown became synonyms for throughout his career. In the NFL Network’s A Football Life documentary and ESPN’s 30 for 30: The U, you can see Brown intimidating opponents from the coin toss to the end of the game. Of course, the on-field production is what fans and viewers look forward to, but the entertainment value of seeing the defensive tackle employ mind games was a remarkable creation that deserved its own gallery at Miami’s Art Basel.
According to the University of Miami’s Sports Hall of Fame record book, Brown accumulated 183 total tackles, 19 tackles-for-loss, five forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries. Brown’s 21 sacks still have him 10th in career sacks in program history. A one-man force of nature storming through the middle of the defense, Brown wreaked havoc at the line of scrimmage, ruining the fine china in a opponents’ backfield as well.
Going on to become a finalist for the Outland and Lombardi trophies in 1986, Brown missed three games in his senior year, likely costing him in the final voting for each award. Despite that, upon declaring for the draft, the Philadelphia Eagles selected the Brooksville native as a ninth pick in the 1987 NFL Draft. It was a good draft year for the ’Canes, as Vinny Testaverde was the first overall pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and RB Alonzo Highsmith was selected third overall by the Houston Oilers. During his five-year career with the Eagles, Brown was twice named an All-Pro (1990 and 1991) and also went to the Pro Bowl in both those seasons. After working with impressive names at The U, Brown formed one of the most formidable defensive tackle duos with hall-of-famer Reggie White to solidify the Eagles’ defensive line.
Sadly, Brown was taken from the world much too soon. In one of the more somber moments in TV history, with tears in his eyes having just learned the news via a phone call, Reggie White took the stage at Veteran Stadium in Philadelphia to break the news to rest of the world of the tragic passing of Jerome Brown.
Brown passed away in a single vehicle car crash in 1992 along with his twelve-year-old nephew, Gus, who was a passenger. Brown was 27-years old.
He was laid to rest in his hometown of Brooksville, Florida. Among the many redeemable qualities about Jerome Brown, one that stood out the most was the love he had for his hometown of Brooksville, Florida. He often went back in the offseason to run around the track at his former high school, or just help the community itself. In 1988, a year after getting drafted into the NFL, Brown was credited with helping disperse a group of Klansman that had congregated in his hometown, without having to use any sort of violence. The love for Brooksville ran deep, so it only makes sense that the man came to it’s defense and made sure to come back home and make it his final stop on this earth.
Brown has been named to the University of Miami’s Sports Hall of Fame and the Philadelphia Eagles’ Hall of Fame. The Eagles also retired Brown’s No.99 in recognition of his contribution to the franchise. A consensus All-American in the 1986 season at UM, like many Hurricanes before and after him, he had to battle in practices just to earn playing time in his first two years on Miami’s campus. Brown remains in Miami’s all-time top 10 in career sacks.
With so much history and success in college, it should be a simple formality that Brown be immortalized with a spot in the Atlanta, Georgia shrine to college football’s best. Yet, there are some details working against him.
Of note, just five defensive tackles have been inducted into the CFHOF who played in the same time frame as Brown’s career at Miami. They are Gailyn Dean Thomsen (Augustana College IL), Pierce Holt (Angelo State University), Timothy John Green (Syracuse), Tracy Quinton Rocker (Auburn) and Chad William Hennings (Air Force). Sharing a tie in sacks with Rocker (Brown played in fewer games than Rocker), the rest of the field has higher numbers in most of the statistical categories that matter for a DT.
The case for Jerome Brown needs to go beyond statistics. His importance to Miami’s program, his hometown and to the game of football is unquestioned. Most of his numbers as time trudges forward will drift away in the winds of the past. Voters should watch the film—it’s evident that among a talented group of Miami defenders, Brown was still a special talent, and an even better human being away from the field. There are plenty of players who can say they played for The U, but there are few that were the living embodiments of what it means to play football at Miami quite like Jerome Brown. For that reason, among many, Brown’s life and career should be forever honored among the game’s best.
IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT THE U!