Brian Browe had just ordered a 20-ounce T-bone (medium well),
steak fries and a side salad with French dressing. Now it was
time for his identical twin, Jeff, to order. "T-bone medium
well, fries and a side salad, please," he told the waiter. And
the dressing? "French," he said. Then he reconsidered. "Make
French? Italian? For most people, choosing a salad dressing
carries as much significance as picking between Exxon and Amoco
gasoline. But in the Browes' case the choice conveyed an
important message. You see, while most twins brag about having
voodoo-doll power--being able to sense one another's pain from
continents away--the Browe brothers have always prided themselves
on being individuals. They have different tastes in cars,
hairstyles and jewelry. In fact, their only obvious
similarity--aside from that stubborn matter of appearance--is in
their equally monstrous contributions to Ferris State, a
Division II nouveau football power located in Big Rapids,
Mich. But even on the gridiron the goals of the 6'3", 275-pound
twins are opposites: Jeff torments passers, while Brian torments
As the Bulldog starting left defensive tackle, Jeff knows all
about wreaking havoc in the backfield. Last year he led the team
with 18 quarterback hurries. Brian, a three-year starter at left
offensive tackle, was equally adept at keeping snarling
defensive linemen away from quarterback Bill Love. As the
protector of Love's blind side, Brian was the most important
member of a line that yielded only 15 sacks last season--20 fewer
than in '92. Before the Browe (pronounced bro) brothers arrived,
Ferris State hadn't won more than six games in a season since
1968. This year the Bulldogs will vie for their fourth straight
Midwest Intercollegiate Football Conference title.
What makes the Browes' football accomplishments impressive is
that expectations for them were lower than a kicking tee. Coming
out of Fraser (Mich.) High at 210 pounds, Brian wasn't
considered more than a marginal football prospect at any level.
Jeff, on the other hand, drew attention from Division I schools
like Wyoming and Central Michigan. But when he chipped a bone in
his left knee during his senior year, scouts had to guard
against injuring their own legs as they sprinted out of town.
Even Ferris State, with 43 partial scholarships at its disposal,
told Jeff and Brian that they would have to suit up as walk-ons
and earn their free rides. It wasn't until the end of their
redshirt freshman year that the Browes were awarded scholarships.
August 27, 1995
"Nothing was given to us," says Brian, a fifth-year senior. "Now
we're the leaders." But even the twins' leadership styles are
different. If a freshman mouths off to a senior, Jeff will
mumble something about respecting one's elders, while Brian will
treat the offending party like a tackling dummy. "Brian is more
antagonistic and flamboyant," says Bulldog defensive line coach
Duane Wilson. "He'll be the first to talk trash or get into a
fisticuff. Jeff is quieter."
That has always been true. Even in elementary school, the
easiest way to tell the twins apart was to wait until one opened
his mouth. "Brian was always less serious, more fun-loving,"
says Nancy Greer, who taught the boys at Salk Elementary School
in Fraser. "He even walked differently. He had a swagger."
The twins were raised in an environment that fostered
individuality. Their mother, Barb, who coordinates classes on
substance-abuse prevention, and father, Phil, who works at a
tool-and-die plant, vowed never to let their boys become fodder
for Doublemint ads. When Barb returned home after giving birth
22-1/2 years ago, she realized that the hospital hadn't labeled
her newborns' photos. Horrified, she reluctantly did an
eeny-meeny-miney-mo before marking one picture Jeffrey John and
the other Brian Keith.
That would be the last time, she swore, that their identities
would be a mystery to her. What if one of them was chasing a
ball in the middle of the street, she thought, and she didn't
know whose name to call? When the twins were old enough to
crawl, Barb gave them colored ankle bands. When they were
toddlers, she used a pen to mark a heel J or B. As soon as the
boys could roam, she started outfitting them in shirts of
different colors: Jeff in red and Brian in blue. The colors are
still as ingrained in their minds as a first kiss. Jeff drives a
1983 red two-door BMW; Brian tools around in a Chevy Blazer,
which he proudly calls "an O-lineman's car." Its color? White.
"But," he quickly points out, "the interior's blue."
To this day, Brian rarely wears red--crimson, occasionally, as in
Ferris State's crimson-and-gold uniforms, but rarely red. That
stems from his desire to avoid the ribbing that comes with being
a twin. "If we wear the same color socks, we hear about it,"
Jeff says. Last summer they made the mistake of arriving at a
picnic wearing tan shorts and blue polo shirts. They endured
jabs all day. "If we're both wearing T-shirts, people joke about
it--even if it's the summer," says Brian. "What are we supposed
The Browes try to look distinctive in other ways too. They have
slightly different haircuts (Jeff wears a part; Brian's 'do is
moussed and pushed straight back), and keen observers notice
that Jeff wears a ring commemorating the Bulldogs' first
conference championship, in '92, while Brian wears the '94
model. Aside from that, the Browe twins look, well, identical.
Many people rely on a mole on Brian's neck to tell them apart.
"If Brian ever wore a turtleneck," says Ferris State coach Jeff
Pierce, "I'd be lost."
The twins' most obvious difference these days is in their
long-term goals. Brian plans to use his business administration
degree toward becoming an inventory manager. Jeff wants to go
into advertising, and he gained experience last summer interning
at Mars Advertising in Southfield, Mich.
As much as they like to talk about their individuality, the
twins realize that their identical genetic makeup can be
manipulated only so much. Each proudly refers to his brother as
his best friend and relishes the fact that, when asked, he can't
remember the last time they spent significant time apart. Brian,
who will graduate in December, five months before Jeff, is
already talking about getting a week off from work in March so
the two can be together for spring break. "Sometimes," says
Jeff, "it feels like we always think alike."
No matter what goes on their salads.