State Your Case: Is Jerome Brown a short-career Hall of Famer?

Ron Borges

Jerome Brown wasn’t around for long, but for the brief time he spent in the NFL he terrorized opposing offenses and overturned quarterbacks. But did he do those things long enough to ever get to Canton?

That is a difficult question to answer unless you live in Philadelphia and cheer for the Eagles.

Denizens of the City of Brotherly Love hold Brown in exceedingly high regard, so much so that his number was retired, and he was named to the Eagles’ 75th Anniversary team. And that, despite playing only five years as one of pro football’s most dominant defensive tackles before he died at age 27 in a fiery, one-car crash that also took the life of his 12-year-old cousin.

Over that short span, Brown registered 29 ½ sacks, 10 fumble recoveries and three pass interceptions. But, more significantly, he was a disruptive force and a run-stuffer extraordinaire in the middle of an Eagles’ defense noted for mayhem.

“If you had 45 Jerome Browns you would win every game,’’ said the man who drafted him, former Eagles’ coach Buddy Ryan.

Ryan was the creator of the “46’’ defense, a swarming approach to defensive football that made the Chicago Bears one of the most feared defenses in NFL history when Ryan was coordinating that unit for Mike Ditka before leaving to become the Eagles’ head coach.

A year after Ryan’s arrival he used the ninth pick in the draft to select Brown, an All-American defensive tackle at Miami. He paired him next to future Hall-of-Famer Reggie White on a line that included Clyde Simmons and linebacker Seth Joyner and created one of the most feared defenses of the late 1980s.

In the final two years before his death, Brown was twice voted first-team All-Pro and was widely seen as the NFL’s most disruptive, and perhaps best, defensive tackle. Immediately after his death, Ryan said of Brown, “He was the best defensive lineman in the league.’’

One could argue that point, but not his ability to create chaos in the midst of an opposing offense with a unique blend of strength and quickness that allowed him to shoot through gaps to shut down running lanes.

Ryan’s defense was all about attacking, and that fit Brown perfectly. His thoughts seemed always bent on charging up field hell bent on destruction, a trait that made him a critical part of a defense that in 1991, his final season, ranked first in total defense, rush defense and pass defense.

During Brown’s five years in Philadelphia, the Eagles led the NFL with 261 sacks, twice finished in the top five in fewest points allowed and battered opposing quarterbacks into submission.

Brown was only getting better at the time of his death. In 1989 he had a career-high 10 ½ sacks. One year later he was named first team All-Pro despite having only one sack. In his final season, Brown produced nine sacks and another first-team All-Pro designation.

It is nearly unheard of for an interior defensive lineman to have nine-and-10-sack seasons, but Brown managed to do it -- and such dominance came as no surprise to one coach who twice a year had to figure out how to control him.

Former Giants’ quarterback Phil Simms once recalled talking to his then-head coach, Bill Parcells about Brown the day the Eagles’ drafted him. What he said didn’t bode well for Simms.

"’I'm not saying he's Reggie White,’’ Simms recalled Parcells telling him, “but if he's not, he's his twin brother.’

"I could tell by Bill's attitude, he was actually depressed about it. Because those two, along with Buddy Ryan and how they played and everything else, it made our life very difficult. Just relentless, rough, tough and, you know, they played. It was no trash-talking or nothing like that—they just did it.’’

Together, Brown and White became two of the most imposing defensive linemen in the league and its best tandem at that time. Once that Eagles’ defense sacked Troy Aikman 11 times, 2 ½ of them belonging to Brown.

“We will never see two defensive players like those on the same field at the same time again," former Dallas wide receiver Michael Irvin said of Brown and White. "Ever.’’

Since White is considered one of the greatest defensive linemen in NFL history, where does that leave Jerome Brown? On Canton’s doorstep or a defensive version of Denver running back Terrell Davis, who opened the door for consideration of short-career brilliance as being Hall of Fame worthy?

The Hall’s 48 voters will have to make that determination, but one fact is unassailable: For the 76 games Jerome Brown played in the NFL he was among the very best. Isn’t that what enshrinement in Canton is about?


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