Inspired by his mother and brother’s dedication and persistence, former Notre Dame receiver Braynard “Bobby” Brown did not let adversity slow his eventual path to success. An All-American receiver at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., he went on to play both football and track at Notre Dame and broke records in both sports. He remains perhaps best known for a controversial penalty he got for excessive celebration – a penalty he still insists was a simple misunderstanding of his actions. Brown looked beyond football and graduated college with a triple major in government, sociology and computer application along with a minor in African-American studies. He later had stints in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers and the Cleveland Browns before embarking on his post-football career. He met his wife, Emily, at Notre Dame and they currently reside in the New York City area with their 2-year-old son, Bray, whose nickname is “Deuce” and their 5 month old son, Thatcher Annson.
Q: What made you go to Notre Dame?
A: I took visits to Michigan, Boston College and Notre Dame, and also had “unofficial visits” to Miami, Florida State and Florida because they were right in my backyard. Coach (Lou) Holtz was very instrumental in my decision to attend Notre Dame. Another key factor was Notre Dame’s exceptional graduation rate. I was very interested in a school that could give me opportunities in both athletics and academics, and Notre Dame was the perfect combination. The guys that hosted me during my visit to Notre Dame were Allen Rossum and Ivory Covington. The three of us hit it off right from the beginning.
Being that I was from Florida, I had no idea how cold it would get at Notre Dame. I lived under the impression that everywhere was warm and sunny like Florida. Before I made my official visit, they advised me that I needed to pack a warm jacket. On that trip I was cold the entire time, but
everything else that I experienced that weekend outweighed the cold. I knew it was exactly where I needed to be. I called my mom my first night and told her that I changed my mind.
The other person that had a big role in my decision to go to Notre Dame was Shawn Wooden. He made me feel so comfortable that weekend. He was going to be a fifth-year senior, yet he was hanging out with the freshmen and the recruits. That left a big impression on me.
Irv Smith always says that he was the recruiting guru of his class … well I was that guy in my class. Every big recruit that they gave me to entertain on their recruiting weekend I got, but one (Laveranues Coles). That was what we did.
Q: During the 1999 Notre Dame-Michigan game in 1999 you got an excessive celebration penalty for imitating a moose? Please explain!
A: In the final minutes of the game I made what could have been the game-winning catch, only to flagged for “excessive celebration” after the play. The referee said that I had taunted the fans by making “Mickey Mouse” ears/imitating a moose. The fifteen yard penalty was enforced on the kickoff so it changed field position and put the defense in a tough situation to stop a shorter drive.
What really happened? The 1999 football season was my fifth year of eligibility. One of the reasons that I was originally considering NOT attending Notre Dame was because they did not have any fraternities and I really wanted to join this national black fraternity (Omega Psi Phi). But once I found out there were other avenues to join the fraternity while still attending Notre Dame, then it was an easy decision for me to go to Notre Dame. During the spring of my fourth year at Notre Dame, I started a process that would eventually lead to me being a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. During this Notre Dame–Michigan game my big brother happened to be in the end zone where I caught that pass, and not only is he also a member of the same fraternity, he has always been my role model. After making what I thought was a game-winning catch, right in front of my brother, I did what was natural to me. I threw up a sign that is closely associated with my fraternity. I had only planned on doing it once that year, the first time I got into the end zone, and this was it. It was a salute to my fraternity brothers around the country. It was quick and I thought it was harmless. Unfortunately, it happened to be mistaken as me imitating a moose or making Mickey Mouse ears to the fans, and it was considered taunting, and he threw the flag.
It was tough having to come back to the sideline…to watch Michigan’s David Terrell on the go-ahead drive, making taunts at the fans and not getting called. My excessive celebration penalty was definitely a home official call. Only in the Big House. Getting blamed for a loss at 21 years (old) really messes with your sleep at night. No matter how passionate the fans are, the players are still human beings. God only gives you as much as you can handle and as a fifth-year senior, I was definitely able to handle this. If it would have happened to a freshman, it could have destroyed their confidence and their collegiate career. I am happy that it happened to me instead of one of the younger players. I have, over the years, used that experience to push myself to be a better person. Making light of what was once a very tense situation, I even named my entertainment company Excessive Celebration. I have been able to take the negative and make it into a positive.
The head official wrote me a letter a few weeks later that same season apologizing to me. He had no idea that what I was doing was connected to a historic and positive organization. I’m sure lots of people had no idea what I was doing. So by bringing it to people’s attention what I was really doing, it opened up a dialogue that might not have otherwise happened. That fact is another silver lining that I have come to appreciate over the years.
There was one fan that kept writing me letters about my moose sign. Another one who claimed it was a gang sign. The Omega Psi Phi fraternity was founded in 1911. It has many prestigious members including Bill Cosby, Michael Jordan, Ronald McNair and Jesse Jackson among many others, but so many people are unaware of it. I took this situation as an opportunity to promote the values of the fraternity. I grew up in a household where my father was not around for a period of time and several “Omega men” were instrumental in making sure that did not turn me into a negative statistic. It was important for me to support and represent my fraternity in a positive way whenever the opportunity presented itself.
I’m now writing a book and the foundation of the book is the excessive celebration penalty, but it discusses the ways that sports allow cultures to collide that would not otherwise cross paths. The occasions that I remember first interacting with diverse groups of people outside my neighborhood were all sports-related: at a track meet, football game or a basketball tournament.
In the book I talk about a bunch of interesting things like the “black table” in the lunch room at Notre Dame. It was not an intentional thing that we did, it was just something that happened without us even realizing it. There were so few minorities at Notre Dame, and so naturally you just all kind of ended up at a table together in the dining hall. My roommate freshman year asked me one day, “Why do you always sit at the black table in the dining hall? We always walk in together and then you go sit at that table instead of eating with us (the roommates). Why?” Before he said that, I had never really thought about it like that. But that is exactly what I did. After he said that to me, I really took notice of things like that.
Q: What is your best Notre Dame football memory?
A: Coach Holtz’s last game. During my time at Notre Dame I was a part of many monumental games. We beat LSU on the road. We beat Michigan right after they had won the national championship. Of course, every game at Notre Dame is a big game. I also had some huge and memorable catches like the game-winner against West Virginia. But being a part of Coach Holtz’s last game at Notre Dame Stadium was very special to me. To be able to share that with him, to be able to contribute to such a big win, is something I will never forget.
I will say our road win over LSU was pretty memorable as well. When we got off the bus at LSU, they made a human gauntlet. There were 90-year-old women with no teeth throwing up their middle finger and calling us Tiger bait. Very aggressive fans. It was a pretty intimidating experience, but we knew we could win.
Q: What was your biggest challenge at Notre Dame?
A: My fifth year at Notre Dame was remarkable in my overall growth and development. I had a significant leadership role and I was respected by my peers. But when you are 5-6 going into the last game of the season, things start to snowball and people start to point fingers. There was this skeleton in the locker room that the trainers used for demonstrations. Joey Getherall, a younger wide receiver who was only a sophomore at the time, dressed the skeleton up in my practice uniform and my shades. When I walked in and saw it, I was just crying in laughter. At the end of the day none of us wanted to lose, none of us wanted to quit, it was just one of those things. You learn from it and move on. A big part of personal growth is how you perceive yourself and how you respond to challenges. It was an important year for me despite the win-loss record.
Q: How do you remember your NFL draft?
A: During my last year at Notre Dame the “experts” said I should have left after the previous year.
Notre Dame’s record during my fifth year was 5-7. Six of our seven losses came down to the last possession of the game; we were plagued with time mismanagement, penalties, turnovers and other mishaps. Unfortunately, NFL teams are not very creative. They scout people in very traditional ways and tend to favor players from teams that are winning. To a certain extent, I felt teams never really took a meaningful look at me because I was not a workout warrior and our team had a bad record. As a result, teams just passed me by in the draft.
Jarious Jackson was the only one who got drafted from Notre Dame that year, and he didn’t get picked until the seventh round.
After the draft ended I started getting a lot of phone calls from various teams. I ended up getting picked up by Green Bay as a free agent and had my chance to show what I can do. It was definitely tough. How you get into the NFL, either via the draft or free agency, determines the opportunities that you receive. It determines how many reps you get, whether or not you get to start … how many chances you get. It’s a business. When I look back at it now, I went into their camp and they had about 17 receivers and three of those were rookies they had drafted. But those odds never crossed my mind. All I could think of was, where am I going to live because I am going to make this team.
Q: What were the highs and lows of NFL?
A: The highs definitely included meeting some great people. The coaches trusted me right away. I came from nowhere according to the scouts and the rankings, but they knew that I could play. It’s the internal reporting that’s far more important. When you get the nod of approval from veterans that have been there for a while, that is what you want. It was a huge accomplishment for me to be able to make it at that level and overcome odds that were so huge as an undrafted free agent.
Post football, I see that very few guys actually get to do productive things with their careers. In order to make it at the NFL level you have to be able to overcome not only physical challenges, but psychological and emotional ones as well. So many guys don’t take the determination that they have on the field and apply it to the business side of the NFL. So many players got chewed up and spit out like meat. So many talented guys never achieve their potential off-the-field and post-football. That sad reality is one of the lows of the NFL.
Q: You played under both Coach Holtz and Coach Davie. Explain the differences between the two coaches.
A: The difference between Coach Holtz and Coach Davie? Night and day.
I am, however, very happy to see Coach Davie is back in coaching. I think his heart is really in it, and he needs to get back out there and show the world what he’s got. Notre Dame was just not a good fit for him at that time, but he is a great x’s and o’s coach.
It is difficult for me to compare the two coaches, though, because as far as I am concerned Coach Holtz was the best of the best. He was the main reason I chose Notre Dame. He is a legend.
I think if Coach Davie had the chance to do it over, he would probably take a few more pages from Coach Holtz’s playbook in terms of how to be a head coach. He was young and ambitious and wanted to do it his own way, and you have to respect that, but I really liked Coach Holtz’s style of coaching and playing under Coach Davie was a big challenge for me.
People always ask me, was Coach Holtz really that mean? He demanded the absolute best out of everyone, and that can come across as mean, but he asked more of you than you could ever have asked of yourself. In doing that, he was changing the level of expectation you had for yourself.
He knew how to build you up as well as break you down. He had a special way to treat each player because he took to time to get to know what made you tick. He knew who to push and how hard to push, but he also knew when you needed a hug and to be built up. It was a constant roller coaster, but he was great at what at he did.
I think he practices his pep talks at night. There is no way someone can say the witty things that he does without practicing. He is a brilliant man. Even when he’s being condescending and making you feel like a gnat he does it in a brilliantly witty way.
Q: Where did life take you after football?
A: That transition was interesting for me. After I played for the Green Bay Packers and then the Cleveland Browns, the Browns wanted to send me to NFL Europe going into what would have been my third year. I told Coach Butch Davis thank you but no thank you, much to some of my family member’s dismay, because at that point I was ready to move on and pursue other things. Coach Davis looked at me like I had eight heads! The odds were really not in my favor that going to NFL Europe would result in making the team. It would have been an additional, mini-season right before starting training camp, the most grueling physical and psychological experience imaginable. I reasoned that the NFL is a short window of opportunity, whether you want to believe that or not. It wasn’t a very popular decision with some of my family and friends, but my brother understood it and gave me his blessing. (He was my agent.) I turned the page and went to law school at Notre Dame, and then business school at Yale. I was going to do them both at Notre Dame, but my mother got sick and I ended up taking some time off to work full-time at a law firm between the two degrees.
While I was working at MF Global, which was my first job out of Yale Business School, the company ended up going bankrupt, so once again I was back to the drawing board. Shortly after MF Global went bankrupt, my mother passed away after a long battle with Cancer. I look at those few months as the absolute low point of my life. Losing a job to an unexpected bankruptcy was one thing, but losing my hero and my best friend (my mother) was an entirely new level of disappointment. To make the situation even more hectic, my second son was born in a NJ hospital the day before my mom passed away in a Florida hospital. Flying back and forth, I got to witness both life-changing moments. (We named our newborn Thatcher Annson because my mom’s middle name was Ann). Ironically, I think my roller coaster experience in the NFL prepared me for this roller coaster period in my life and so I quickly got back on my feet.
During my time at MF Global I had I started doing public speaking, got my NFL agent license and was representing two guys in the NFL draft. I started the agent business with my older brother. Before my mom passed away, she got to see us start the business together. I can recall one night my brother and I were about to drive up to Jacksonville, Florida to present to a potential client. We left the printed materials on the kitchen table before we left and my mom picked it up and started reading it. When we walked into the room she was smiling from ear to ear as she was beaming with pride. She was so pleased that her two boys had joined forces to build something from the ground up. After she read the materials from cover to cover, she told us that she was just as pleased to see our business model consisted of helping, educating and providing off-the-field opportunities for clients. I will never forget her smile when we walked into the room and that memory has helped my brother and I fight through some tough, early stage days in the business.
I like helping NFL players, sharing with them the pitfalls of the NFL and helping them to avoid them. Some agents only focus on the here and now, but we try to help them start from day one preparing for their eventual transition from the NFL to the next chapter of their life. It’s disappointing to me that so many guys don’t have a successful life after football. Because I had Mrs. Bettye Brown, my mother, in my ear always telling me “use the game, don’t let it use you”, I was always prepared for the transition. We try to share our mother’s philosophy with each client.
My mother was an educator for over 40 years in the Broward County School System. With the help of all my siblings, we started the Bettye W. Brown Scholarship Fund to provide financial assistance for a select Broward County public school graduate pursuing their dream of higher education. Continuing my mother’s legacy through the scholarship fund means more to me than any athletic, academic or professional accomplishment that I have ever had. Eventually I will probably try to get back onto Wall Street again. But for now my law practice, speaking engagements and agent duties are all keeping me busy. I know my mother is looking down on us with that same beaming, proud smile because she likes seeing us work together and helping other people.
Find your passion and the rest will come.
I am also still very involved with Notre Dame. While I was in law school, I served on the NCAA Faculty Board and the university’s Council on Diversity. I was also a two term president of the Black Law Students Association and an active member of the Business Law Society. I am currently on the Notre Dame Law Advisory Council, Black Alumni board and Diversity Council.
Q: What is your favorite Lou Holtz memory?
A: When Lou Holtz had his first meeting with my freshman class, we thought we were pretty hot (stuff). We were the consensus No. 1 recruiting class that year. The freshmen and the coaches who recruited us were all sitting in this big meeting room waiting for Coach Holtz. As we are sitting there waiting we are all talking, bragging about all of the things that we accomplished in high school, and the buzz is getting louder and louder. When Coach Holtz walks in the noise quiets down some, but apparently not as much as he had expected. Coach Holtz says, “I’m going to walk out of this room, and when I walk back in, you’re going to be sitting quietly with your shoulders back, heads up tall, and your hands on your knees.” I didn’t even know I possessed that kind of posture. But he said it with such conviction that we all knew that we had to sitting perfectly and quietly when he came back in.
When the upperclassmen came in a few days later, he walked into the room and they did it automatically. We were all in awe at the respect that he demanded … and received. Just like that.
Every year there is one player who has the classic Coach Holtz accent, who is the token Coach Holtz impersonator. That was me. At the end of the season the freshman put on the skits at the bowl game. I got to do the Holtz impersonation at the Orange Bowl and I was so nervous that Holtz would see it.
In my best Lou Holtz accent, talking about me: “When I recruited you from Florida, they said you were fast. Your film must have been in fast forward, I don’t see speed. Can you hit fast forward please!”
Q: If you were on a desert island and could only take one person or group’s music with you, what would it be?
A: I’m taking Outkast. I think their sound is ageless and their creativity is truly innovative. Yes, they are in the rap genre, but their vibe is a combination of other music genres as well. Outkast is simply two guys who started making music together in high school and continued to develop great music. Hearing Outkast reminds me of friendships with high school and college teammates. Outkast was popular in the mid-90s when I was transitioning from high school to college. I look back on those days very fondly … like my best friend and I who have been linked at the hip since we were 15 playing high school football.
I’d like to thank Bobby Brown for graciously taking some time out of his busy schedule to stop by the blog. We all greatly appreciate it! Next week I feature a former Notre Dame quarterback who has stories that you do not want to miss!