This week, we’re celebrating some of our favorite random plays and obscure moments in NFL history — those that WE will never forget, even if others have. Welcome to “Who Remembers?” Week at SB Nation NFL.
Before Eddie Jackson, there was Mike Brown. Along with Brian Urlacher, Brown was one of the linchpins of an opportunistic Chicago defense in the early 2000s and was every Bears fan’s favorite safety.
Brown was an excellent tackler and had a nose for the football during his nine-year career with Chicago. Despite last playing for them in 2008, he’s still in the top 10 in Bears history for tackles and passes defended. Brown is also the franchise leader for fumbles returned for a touchdown.
In his second year in the league, Brown was a big part of the Bears’ defensive success. The defense ranked fifth in the league in takeaways, while Brown led a secondary which allowed the fewest passing touchdowns in 2001. He was seventh on the team in tackles and had a team-high five interceptions.
Brown’s ballhawking ability made him an impactful player that entire season — but none more than a miraculous two-week stretch he had in Weeks 7 and 8.
First, Brown capped off an impressive comeback against the 49ers
The Bears headed into their matchup against the San Francisco 49ers on a five-game winning streak. For the majority of the game, the 49ers took it to Chicago, who needed a furious rally to get back into it.
With 33 seconds left, Bears quarterback Shane Matthews found David Terrell near the edge of the end zone for a 4-yard score. Then Anthony Thomas rumbled in for the two-point conversion, capping off 15 straight points for the Bears and forcing the game into overtime.
Then it was Brown’s time to shine.
The Niners won the toss and elected to receive. On their first play from scrimmage, Jeff Garcia took a short drop from under center and fired a laser to Terrell Owens. The football bounced off the Hall of Fame receiver and into the air. Urlacher clobbered Owens directly after, taking the wideout out of the play. Brown, who was running directly toward the ball, was in the right place at right time.
He picked it off on the fly and turned on the jets. Starting tackle Derrick Deese was the last man in between Brown and the daylight but didn’t have the right angle as the safety raced right past him into the end zone.
Brown’s touchdown won the game for Chicago and lifted them firmly into first place in the NFC North. However, this wasn’t the end of Brown’s overtime heroics.
Then, Brown scored the game winner against Cleveland after 30 seconds of chaos
Brown’s next chance to be Superman for the Bears came quickly, in their next game against the Cleveland Browns. Like the previous week, the Bears were manhandled by their opponents early. The Browns were up 21-7 with 30 seconds left and Chicago needed a miracle to make this comeback happen.
The first step took place when the Bears scored to make it 21-14 and then lined up for the onside kick. The ball bounced a couple of times, allowing Bears cornerback Jerry Azumah to leap up and knock the ball back into the field of play. A mad pileup for the ball ensued near the Chicago sideline and the Bears eventually ended up with the football. The work wasn’t done yet, though. A couple plays later, Chicago set up a Hail Mary attempt from the Cleveland 34.
Matthews dropped deep in the pocket, took two gigantic steps up, and heaved a prayer into the end zone. Instead of knocking it down, the Cleveland defenders hit the ball back up, giving James Allen a chance. He dove for the ball and nabbed it out of the air for a touchdown. It was a wacky play and suddenly this game, which looked to be over just a minute ago, was heading to overtime.
Chicago won the toss in overtime but quickly went three-and-out. The Browns started their overtime drive by throwing on three straight plays. On the third pass, Tim Couch immediately tried to zip a pass to his right but it never got to the receiver. Defensive end Bryan Robinson leaped up and got a hand to it, sending the ball flying upward.
Once again, Brown stepped up for Chicago.
He was in the center of the field for this play. Seconds before the ball was snapped, he snuck up to sit alongside the linebackers and covered tight end Aaron Shea coming out of the backfield. As Couch’s pass was floating in the air, Brown noticed the ball was falling right in front of him. He sprinted toward it and it fell right into his lap.
With a full head of steam and nobody in front of him, Brown sped into the end zone for the game-winning score.
It was the second time in back-to-back weeks in which the Bears had won on a defensive touchdown in overtime after a huge rally — and it was scored by the same player.
That season, Brown was the anchor for a unit that was just beginning to realize how good it was. Behind a defense which gave up the least amount of points in the league, the Bears went 13-3, winning their division before bowing out to the Philadelphia Eagles in their opening playoff game.
Although his career tailed off after 2004, Brown remains a part of Bears folklore, known as a hard-hitting safety who used his smarts to quickly smother the opposition in the open field.
Those instincts were on display back in 2001 and are the moments Brown remembers when he looks back on his NFL career.
“Those are the two plays I remember vividly. It was a special time. I was a young player. I was in my second year. It gave me more confidence,” Brown said to Bears senior writer Larry Meyer when Chicago celebrated its 100th season.
It’s not hard to see why he feels that way. Brown is still the only NFL player to record pick-sixes in consecutive overtime games, a feat which will likely never be matched.