Raiders legend Tim Brown is in Phoenix this week, hoping to hear his name announced on Saturday as a new Hall of Famer after six years of being named a finalist. The list of reasons why he belongs in the Hall is long, but if not for an act of defiance in high school, he would never have played football at all.
Brown's mother, Josephine, forbid him from playing football as a freshman at Woodrow Wilson High School in Dallas.
"Some of it was, she didn't want me to be hurt," Brown explained to me. "A lot of it was, we were raised in a church that believed that sports were the Antichrist. Even when I got to the pros, there were issues with it."
The church was a Pentecostal one, the Church of God and Christ. According to bible teachings, a man can't serve two Gods. Josephine, along with other church members, believed that sports had the potential to become someone's God, therefore putting God second.
Brown didn't subscribe to that theory, so he played freshman football and kept it a secret from his mother. In order to explain why we was going to football games every Friday night, he told an unsuspecting Josephine that he was playing bass drum the marching band.
He wasn't lying. As a freshman he was able to play both football and bass drum. But when he made the varsity team as a sophomore, he had to give up his music career and get a parents signature on some forms before he could hit the field. His father signed his football papers without telling his mom.
"One day I ended up having a great game, and one of her friends called her and told her I was in the paper," recalled Brown. "So she came to me all mad thinking I had done something wrong to end up in the paper. I knew nothing about it, so she went and got the paper, saw it was an article about me playing football, and flipped out."
Things got tense in the Brown household for a while, but the budding superstar was permitted to keep playing, and Josephine's objections loosened a little when he got a scholarship to play for Notre Dame. He won the Heisman Trophy there in 1987, becoming the first wide receiver to ever win the award. Drafted by the Raiders in 1988, he became a Pro Bowl player his rookie season.
"When you win the Heisman and make the Pro Bowl your rookie year, you expect people to treat you differently because you're a big muckety-muck now," said Brown.
But Jospehine wasn't having any of that attitude. During the offseason of his rookie year, Brown returned home to a banner outside his house that said, "Welcome Home Heisman Trophy Winner and Pro Bowler Tim Brown." His mother stood outside and told him she was proud. She then pointed to the sign and told him the reason it wasn't inside the house.
"She told me all of the hype belonged outside the house," he said. "So I went from having my chest all puffed out to being deflated and going, 'Yes, ma'am.' It was a life changing moment for me. It gave me a place of refuge. I didn't have to come home and be Tim Brown. I could be Timmy, and take out the trash and clean up my room. It was really special. I don't know if she realized the wisdom at that time."
Josephine was there in person when Brown caught his 1,000th career pass, and it was the only game she attended in Brown's 27 years of playing football.
"She is a deeply religious woman," explained Brown. "I didn't want her sitting in the stands with Raider Nation."
Brown has 12-year old twins, and says there are times he sees echoes of his mother in the way he raises his own children.
"I gave my kids some money when we were ready to come out here, and last night at dinner he pulls out his money and gave it back," said Brown, who is a spokesperson for the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet. "He says, 'I was trying to download a $4.99 game and it ended up being $49.99,' so here's your money back.''
Brown recognizes that the values that cause a 12-year old boy to be so honest are hard to come by, and he knows exactly where it comes from.
"It's a lot of my mom coming down through me, no doubt about it."
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