Patriot Pride: My Life in the New England Dynasty

Patriot Pride: My Life in the New England Dynasty

by Troy Brown, Mike Reiss

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781629375212
Publisher: Triumph Books
Publication date: 11/01/2017
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 358,251
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Troy Brown played for the New England Patriots for 15 seasons as a wide receiver, defensive back, and punt returner. He retired from the NFL after the 2007 season. A graduate of Marshall University, Brown currently works for Comcast SportsNet New England. Mike Reiss has covered the Patriots since 1997. He is a reporter and analyst for ESPNBoston.com. Mike is a lifelong New Englander and lives with his family in suburban Boston.

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CHAPTER 1

Modest Beginnings in Blackville, South Carolina

Those were the times when he would think back to Blackville and say to himself, "Every little crumb, every little thing, just appreciate it."

This is where the journey began: Blackville, South Carolina.

To call it a modest beginning would be an understatement. In a town of about 2,000 residents, Troy's home was an itsy-bitsy ranch with a few walls that divided the space into multiple rooms to provide some form of privacy. But considering how many people were packed into the home, there was really no privacy at all. No closets, either. Everyone's clothes and belongings were stored in footlockers at the foot of the bed and those footlockers made for nice stools to sit on, too.

In football, they'd call this the bunch formation. Everyone packed in tight.

The leader of the house was Troy's grandmother, who in many ways was the best coach he ever had. Troy would later play for two of the all-time great football coaches in Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick, but there was no one like Grandma Wilhamenia. She had nine children, the second oldest of whom was Troy's mother. All of them, and their kids, lived together in the small home.

So Grandma Wilhamenia not only raised her own kids, she basically raised her grandchildren too. She was Troy's first true role model.

Life wasn't easy for the family in Blackville, South Carolina, at the time. To make sure they had this modest roof over their head, they worked in the fields — the vast acreage around the house that had animals such as chickens running around the backyard — in exchange for shelter. Part of the work included picking cotton. No, there weren't video games to be played.

There were basically four rooms in the house — one for the girls, one for the boys, with a wooden swinging door separating them. Things were more cramped in the boys' room, with six of them there at one point before some left for the military. The three girls had a bit more space, but not much more.

Grandma Wilhamenia's room was on the other side, which also served as the family room. A small kitchen and washroom was behind that.

The bathroom was in the backyard — an outhouse 20 to 30 yards from the home. One time, during a storm, it blew away. That turned out to be a good thing because the new outhouse had two bowls, depending on what you had to do. Talk about luxury.

Friends described Troy's home as "Little House on the Prairie." Looking out the front door, one could see a distribution area across the field where 18-wheeler trucks would line up to be stocked with produce. It was rural. Real rural.

In the fields, Troy would chop wood and pick peanuts and corn. When you're four years old, there is a certain acceptance to this being the way life is. It just seemed normal.

He later learned otherwise. This is why Troy is so appreciative of the life that football has provided him; it starts in Blackville. That's where he learned that everything you get in life is earned. It's where he learned sacrifice. It's where he learned that words can sometimes ring hollow; it's the actions that count: If you don't work in the fields, you don't have a place to live.

Troy and his mother moved out when he was around five years old, to a subsidized housing development. While he had more friends in the projects, there was something about the farm that he missed. Grandma Wilhamenia was a big part of that. So was all the acreage on the farm; there might not have been a lot of toys to play with there, but with a little imagination, the possibilities were endless.

Some 15 to 20 years later, Troy would find himself in a football locker room and hear complaints from some of his teammates. Maybe practice went too long. Someone wanted a car, a tattoo, or a piece of jewelry. The body ached and maybe the paycheck wasn't big enough.

Those were the times when he would think back to Blackville and say to himself, "Every little crumb, every little thing, just appreciate it."

By the time he was 10, Grandma Wilhamenia moved out of the house on the farm, all of her kids now elsewhere. She couldn't do the work on the farm by herself.

That saddened the grandson. Time moves on. But the lessons learned on that farm would never fade.

*
Football was a big part of life in Blackville. High school football on Friday night, as it is in many places around the country with that Friday Night Lights mentality, was the local entertainment.

Troy was hooked on the game early, from the time he first began attending games with his aunt, who was in high school at the time. The local high school team was a perennial state title contender in the late '70s and into the early '80s, which further stoked his passions. Like many, he looked out on the field and said to himself, "Someday that will be me."

But that was still a few years away, so he played the more informal type football — in the projects with his friends. They'd play on the cornfields and every once in a while, kids from the projects from the other side of town would come by for an informal game, a grass-roots rivalry that Troy soaked up as if it were the Super Bowl. He was usually the youngest of the bunch. The smallest, too. But he had good hands and a knack for coming up with the tough catch, a scouting report that would follow him into the NFL.

A reminder that most of the people involved in the game were from modest backgrounds was reflected in the football itself. It was often tattered, the laces sometimes ripped. Occasionally, there would be a good ball, maybe even a tee to kick the ball, one that someone received as a present for Christmas or as a birthday gift. But that usually didn't last long.

If it wasn't football, it was baseball. That was another sport that didn't take much to get a game together among those in the country projects — some sticks, maybe some boards, and any old ball that might be around.

For kids growing up in the area, there weren't many options for organized sports — no little league soccer or pee-wee basketball. By the time Troy was old enough to try out for his first competitive basketball team, in the seventh grade, he was cut from the middle-school squad. It would be the first hurdle for him to clear in a long athletic career of overcoming the odds.

He ended up playing competitive baseball for a few years, but the excitement he got from that paled in comparison to the way he felt when on the football field, or when he would watch a game, like he did that first time in Grandma Wilhamenia's bedroom/family room, when he saw the Dallas Cowboys and instantly fell in love with them.

So it was football. And more football. He had wanted to play organized football in the first grade, but was held back by family members concerned by his diminutive stature. So he'd follow his brother Dwayne to practice, a seven-year-old either walking the few miles or taking his bicycle and navigating little ditches in the road and getting chased by stray dogs at times.

There was naturally some fear in making those jaunts to practice, wondering if the boards that were set up to cover some ditches in the road would hold up. But he figured that if his older brother was going that way, he would do the same. If that meant being part of the action, he'd take the risk and attempt to conquer the fear.

So when the undersized first-grader arrived for his brother's first practice, he did what anyone would expect a seven-year-old to do — he negotiated. "Coach, put me in! I want to play! I want one of those uniforms!"

The coach said no. The boy cried.

The coach, perhaps feeling a bit beaten down, called the boy's mother to see if there was any wiggle room. But Troy's mom held her ground, like a nose tackle unwilling to be budged off the spot at the middle of the line of scrimmage.

The boy cried some more, until they found a solution that would work. Troy Brown would be the water boy.

It was perfect, really. An NFL player who would later be remembered as one of the most selfless teammates in New England Patriots history, not to mention one of its most clutch performers, just wanted to be part of the team.

It was that way in first grade. Just as it was that way when he was 37 in his final season in the NFL, having reached the mountaintop and chasing one more championship ring.

When Troy finally got his chance to play organized football the next season, there was a noticeable problem — the equipment didn't fit. Not even close.

His helmet looked like it could have fit two of his heads. His pants were falling down his waist, but that didn't really look so bad because his No. 22 jersey covered everything up as it extended down toward his knees.

"We'd tape his knee pads up, tape his thigh pads up around his waist, and the funny thing about his helmet is that when he would run, it would turn sideways on his head," recalled Al Sept, who coached the pee-wee team.

The first position Troy played was defensive back, which would help 25 years later when Bill Belichick put him there again.

Sept recalls that day in 1979 as if it were yesterday.

"I put Troy into the game and pointed to the wide receiver on the other team and said 'See that player? Everywhere he goes, I want you in his back pocket.' Troy said, 'Yes, sir.' So the teams get into their huddles and I'm making sure we have the correct number of players on our side, but we're short one player. That's because Troy was in the other team's huddle, in the back pocket of that wide receiver. He was doing exactly what I told him."

That required Sept to call a timeout and explain to Troy the rules of the game. These were the modest beginnings of Troy Brown, the future New England Patriots Hall of Famer.

Coach Sept also put him on the kickoff team, and in many ways, that was the highlight of his little league football career. Looking back, the synergy is hard to miss. When Brown's NFL career ended in 2007, he was known as one of the club's most clutch special teams players.

What little league coaches quickly discovered — just as Bill Parcells, Pete Carroll, and Bill Belichick later would in the NFL — was that while the little guy didn't always look great doing it, he simply made plays and never backed down from a confrontation. Maybe that's why he quickly graduated to playing offensive guard, defensive tackle, and running back.

One thing the coaches always told him, mainly because he was the smallest player on the field, was that he needed to protect himself from big hits. He never listened. There was a sense of pride he had in taking the big hit and getting back up, or dragging a few would-be tacklers along for a ride and later hearing them say, "He's pretty strong for a little dude."

"From Day 1, his drive to win and not give up stood out," recalled Coach Sept. "If his body was as big as his heart, you couldn't place him in a stadium. That's the type of individual Troy was at the time; he was an exciting young man who loved what he did and knew the background he came from."

It's the same feeling he had when Bill Belichick said similar things to him in the Super Bowl championship years. While others looked at Troy as an undersized slot receiver, he viewed himself more in the mold of running back Antowain Smith, a 232-pound thumper who was known for running over defenders, not by them.

It was an approach that was born in the "country projects" of Blackville, when there were daily challenges between Troy's brother and his friends to see who held the title as the toughest of the bunch. At times, the group would coax little Troy to take part in what was essentially an "Oklahoma drill" — two players in confined space running full speed at one another, and may the toughest man (or in this case, boy) win.

Troy often won them. So while he might have been the smallest kid on the block, he never really felt like it. To prove his point, he'd often line up in the back row of team pictures, the spot normally reserved for the team's bigger players.

He always played big, of course.

When Troy would later become a New England Patriots fixture, he was one of the most famous athletes to ever come out of Blackville. Up to that point, running back Larry Raysor, who attended the University of Georgia, was probably the most well-known athlete from the town.

Troy has never forgotten those roots.

"Growing up with a single mother, having to work, seeing his mother struggle, Troy always wanted to make things better for his family; it was never just him, but also his mother, siblings, and his grandmother," said Sept, who has remained in close contact with Troy since those first pee-wee days.

"Troy didn't want his siblings to come up the way he did. He came up hard and it wasn't easy for him. He wanted to make sure he provided and that also includes giving back to the community.

"We had lost pee-wee football for 10 to 12 years, and when we decided to bring it back, I called Troy and asked for support. He dressed out 22 kids from top to bottom to make sure they had the same opportunity he did when he was a kid."

Such kindness helps explain why Troy once received the keys to the town.

"Troy put Blackville on the map," Sept said. "And in doing so, he was an example to kids of what can happen when you do the right things."

*
When Troy finally made it to the NFL, he quickly discovered how bringing in a new coach meant a dramatically different way of doing things. The transition from Bill Parcells to Pete Carroll was extreme in 1997. Then in 2000, the switch from Carroll to Bill Belichick also meant a dramatically different way of doing things.

It turns out it wasn't the first time he'd dealt with such change. In fact, a switch to a new coach when he was in 10th grade at Blackville-Hilda High School was the catalyst to his eventual breakthrough as a college prospect.

In his pee wee and middle school years, Troy played a lot of fullback and the team ran the power I-formation. It was an interesting fit considering he was one of the smallest players on the field, weighing 100 pounds as a freshman. The plays didn't vary much — run, run, and run some more.

That changed when Mike Pope became head coach in Troy's sophomore season, installing an offense that called more passing plays. An injury kept Troy out for most of that season, but by the time junior and senior year rolled around, and Troy had bulked up to about 130 pounds, he had transitioned to a full-time receiver.

"Eyes! Hands! Tuck!"

"Eyes! Hands! Tuck!"

"Eyes! Hands! Tuck!"

Those were the words the coaching staff constantly drilled into Troy and his fellow receivers and he took them to heart, going through each warm-up with intensity and learning the nuances of running different routes.

This, in many ways, was like a return to how he played in the country projects in Blackville. Troy wasn't known as a speed demon, but he was shifty and had reliable hands. Growing into his body, he flashed potential to be a difference-maker on teams that were about to break through to championship-contender status.

Senior year was special, a combination of his emergence and the presence of talented players around him to form a team that later would remind him of the 2001 New England Patriots Super Bowl championship squad because the "team" came before individual ego. Everyone just did their job and didn't care who got the credit, which was a bit different from his junior year. Blackville-Hilda High School lost just one game in Troy's senior season in 1989, finishing 14–1. The blemish coming when players were understandably distracted by the death of one of their teammates.

Inevitably, when former teammates meet up, they still reminisce about those days. What they often remember is what many do when they reflect mid-life: the innocence of it all, how they were led by their passion. When they took the field — and there were 5,000 to 10,000 people cheering them on, some lined up on the fence in back of the end zone — it felt like they meant something to everyone. No one was thinking about how hard life was at those times and that's the way it was supposed to be.

But life was hard, make no mistake about it.

Troy worked all the time, which is why football never really seemed like work to him. When he was nine years old, for example, he'd be picked up in the country projects in a station wagon and be driven to the cucumber fields. His responsibility was to fill five-gallon buckets full of cucumbers, and he'd earn 50 cents per bucket. That's a lot of cucumbers.

A tedious job to some, Troy took it seriously while making it a point to avoid the snakes slithering through the fields. He was meticulous, just as he was on the football field. If his route was supposed to be run at the six-yard mark, that didn't mean five-and-a-half yards or six-and-a-half yards. It was precisely six yards and picking the cucumbers was no different. It would have been easy to stock each bucket with big, old soggy cucumbers, but those wouldn't be appetizing for re-sale. So he had a process in which the smaller ones went into one bucket, the medium ones into another.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "Patriot Pride"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Troy Brown and Mike Reiss.
Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword Tom Brady ix

Introduction xiii

1 Modest Beginnings in Blackville, South Carolina 1

2 From Junior College to Marshall, Improbably So 19

3 The NFL Dream Almost Dies 43

4 A Not-So-Super Experience 67

5 Stop Picking on Our First-Round Draft Choice! 77

6 A Career Breakthrough in Year 8 89

7 An Unforgettable 2001 Season 99

8 Life at the Top Isn't Easy 123

9 "Bingo! I've Got Bingo!" 131

10 "Defense? You Want Me to Play Defense? 149

11 Nearly a Saint 165

12 Elation and Despair in the '06 Playoffs 177

13 A Behind-the-Scenes View of a Near-Perfect Season 201

14 It's Hard to Walk Away From the Game You Love 213

15 In His Own Words: Life After Football 237

16 Patriots Hall of Famer 255

Acknowledgments 267

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