On Thursday, Troy Brown took the toughest step of his career, walking away from the game as he announced his retirement while flanked by Patriots coach Bill Belichick, Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Brown’s wife, Kimberly, and sons, Sir’mon and SaanJay.
Fifteen years ago, Troy Brown took the first step.
It was quite a leap, going from an unheralded eighth-round pick out of then Division I-AA Marshall to earning an NFL roster spot with the Patriots.
Eight years later, Brown’s next step forward came as he finally found a coach willing to give the special-teams star a chance to start at wide receiver.
That coach, Bill Belichick, forced Brown to change directions four years later, turning him into one of the modern era’s few two-way players as Brown helped the team survive a series of injuries in the secondary.
But Thursday, Brown took the toughest step of his career, walking away from the game as he announced his retirement while flanked by Belichick, Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Brown’s wife, Kimberly, and sons, Sir’mon and SaanJay.
“I am going to try to get through this without crying today,” said Brown, who made it through the news conference successfully, though he had to fight backs the tears a few times as the emotions took their toll.
“You can’t outrun Father Time,” said Brown, who turned 37 in July. “No matter how much you try, you can’t do it. God knows I would love to go out there and try and practice today, but we all know there comes a time where you just have to say, ‘I can’t keep up anymore.’
“It is hard sometimes to just let it go,” added Brown, “but I know at the end of the day I played this game the way it was supposed to be played and that’s doing whatever it takes to win the game.”
There was no debate over that. Kraft introduced Brown as “the consummate Patriot,” while Belichick upped that to labeling him “the consummate professional.”
“It has truly been an honor and a privilege to coach Troy,” added Belichick.
Brown had proven his worth as a kick and punt returner before Belichick took over as head coach in 2000, and he still holds the franchise record in career punt-return yards with 2,625. But it was under Belichick’s watch that Brown finally got to reach his full potential.
After starting just seven games in his first seven years, he started 15 in 2000, and produced 83 catches for 944 yards. The following season saw those totals reach a career-high 101 receptions for 1,199 yards, plus 18 more catches in the playoffs en route the club’s first Super Bowl title.
By the end of his stay in Foxboro, Brown topped the Patriots’ record book with 557 career catches and was second all-time with 6,366 receiving yards.
When the games mattered most, Brown was at his best with franchise marks in catches (58) and receiving yards (694) in the postseason.
“Nobody thought Troy could go deep,” said Belichick. “Nobody thought he could make the big plays. But all he did was make plays. He just kept making them.”
Brown rewarded Belichick’s faith in him with his play on the field, but Thursday he made sure is gratitude was clear.
“I want to say thank you to him for giving me the opportunity to be something that everyone said I wasn’t going to be and that was to be a starting receiver in this league,” Brown said to Belichick. “Not only that but you made me quite a defensive back also. So thank you coach, I do appreciate it.”
Brown’s work on defense was limited, but memorable. He was tossed into the fray unexpectedly in 2004, and ended up second on the team with three interceptions, the first coming on the final pass he caught from his old teammate Drew Bledsoe.
Then in 2006, Brown was needed again when the Pats had to face Brett Favre and Packers with defensive backs Asante Samuel, Eugene Wilson and Rodney Harrison all hurt. Belichick’s solution? Put Brown one-on-one on Donald Driver, the leading receiver in the NFC at the time. The result? Driver managed one catch for 3 yards.
“He was a guy who as a football player embodied every aspect of being a Patriot,” said Harrison. “He was resilient, hard-working, tough, just a leader. His work ethic was second to none and his unselfishness was incredible.”
Harrison actually learned that long before either player ended up in Foxboro. They first clashed in the NCAA Div. I-AA playoffs when Harrison’s Western Illinois squad met up with Brown’s Thundering Herd.
“I kicked his butt,” said Harrison with a smile. “I hit him real hard. He got up and looked at me and said, ‘Is that all you got?’ That was Troy. You hit him in the mouth and he just smiles at you. It just shows his toughness. Troy had fun when he played, and we all learned from that.”
Harrison was lucky to get that much out of Brown, who usually just let his play do the talking.
“He was that guy who didn’t say too much, but you knew when it was time to put on the shoulder pads, you were going to get 100 percent from him,” said longtime teammate Kevin Faulk, “and he was going to do what he had to do.”
And Thursday he had to step away from the game. Pats fans won’t see Brown in pads again, but they will get one more chance to salute him. Kraft announced that the Nov. 13 Thursday Night game against the Jets will be Troy Brown Night, with festivities to honor the three-time Super Bowl champ.
Brown came close to being at Gillette Stadium in another capacity that night. He nearly signed with New York this offseason, but chose instead to hang up the cleats having played his entire career in New England.
“It’s tough,” said Brown, who will work as an analyst for Comcast SportsNet. “I would give anything in the world to put those pads on again and do it. I probably had the opportunity to do it but it just wasn’t the right color. I didn’t think I’d look good in green and white.
“The only colors you’ll ever see on my back as a football player are the red, white and blue of the New England Patriots,” added Brown. “I am proud to say that and thank you for all the great memories you all provided.”
Douglas Flynn covers the Patriots for the Daily News. He can be reached at email@example.com.