This story originally ran on June 25, 2012.
It was the day before the Eagles-Redskins game at RFK Stadium in 1989, and the Eagles were staying at the Crystal City Marriott in Arlington, Va.
That was the weekend Randall Cunningham signed a contract extension, then went out and passed for 447 yards and five touchdowns as the Eagles rallied back from a 30-14 third-quarter deficit to beat the Redskins 42-37.
That was unforgettable, but so was what happened the day before.
I was walking through the hotel lobby on the way to the gym for a workout. I had grabbed a T-shirt out of my bag, any T-shirt, and I didn’t even notice that the one I grabbed just happened to be emblazoned in large block type with these words: NOTRE DAME FOOTBALL.
I was hardly a Notre Dame fan. I bought the shirt at the Notre Dame bookstore the year before while covering La Salle-Kansas State in the NCAA basketball tournament in South Bend.
So there I was unwittingly wearing a Notre Dame T-shirt walking to the gym and then all of a sudden there’s Jerome Brown, all 300 pounds of raging mock fury, standing in front of me with this little smile and a look on his face that said ... “You're not wearing that shirt near me and getting away with it.”
This was at the height of the Miami-Notre Dame rivalry.
Eleven months earlier, both teams were undefeated when Notre Dame beat Miami 31-30 in the famed Catholics vs. Convicts game in South Bend, voted recently as the greatest win in Fighting Irish history. Notre Dame finished 12-0 and won the national title. Miami didn’t lose again and finished No. 2 in the country.
So Jerome looked at me and smiled and then picked me up and slammed me against the wall while Keith Jackson stood there laughing and saying, “Come on, Jerome, don’t kill him.”
Jerome smashed me two more times face-first against the wall and then let me kind of crumple to the floor and then he stood over me and laughed and said these words that I’ll never forget:
“I’m just messin’ with ya, homes!”
Then he scooped me up, put me back together and sent me hobbling on my way.
And whenever people ask me what Jerome was like, I tell them that story because that’s Jerome in a nutshell.
He was just this big, huge, massive kid who didn’t have a care in the world, who would do absolutely anything for a laugh, who hadn’t quite grown up yet. Jerome’s playground was everywhere and included whoever happened to be in his way that day, that moment, and that day it was me.
On June 25, 1992, 28 years ago today, Jerome drove his ZR1 Corvette into a tree in his hometown Brooksville, Fla., instantly killing both him and his 13-year-old nephew Gus. Jerome was 27.
Jerome only played five seasons in the NFL, but he was the best defensive tackle I’ve ever seen. He was a ferocious pass rusher, recording 29 1/2 sacks in his five seasons as an Eagle, and an absolute monster against the run. Even on a defense loaded with some of the greatest defenders of our generation - Reggie White, Eric Allen, Seth Joyner, Clyde Simmons, Andre Waters, Wes Hopkins, Byron Evans - Brown stood out.
He was the true heart of that team. He made the Pro Bowl his last two years and was a first-team all-pro both seasons, 1990 and 1991.
I believe Jerome would have been a Hall of Fame defensive tackle if he had played a full career. I’ve never seen that combination of speed, power and fury in one person.
Of course, what made Jerome such a fascinating guy was what he was like off the field.
Jerome was one of the most naturally funny people I’ve ever been around.
He reminded me so much of John Belushi. He would do anything or say anything, no matter how outrageous, for a laugh.
Jerome’s locker at the Vet was next to Reggie’s, and they were polar opposites, Reggie the pious minister and Jerome the X-rated maniac.
And we all watched and laughed as Jerome went to great lengths day after day to get Reggie to snap. His comic monologues directed at Reggie grew raunchier and more vulgar by the day, and Reggie would just smile and ignore it.
There was one particular radio guy Jerome loved to torture. He would crawl along the floor and sneak up on the guy day after day and then just let loose this blood-curdling scream that would practically give the radio dude a heart attack.
“I’m just messing’ with ya, homie!”
Most Jerome Brown stories just can’t be told.
Ask me some time the Janet Jackson story. Or the story about Jerome in the visiting locker room at Texas Stadium the night the Eagles beat the Cowboys on the last day of the 1988 season to clinch the NFC East title. Or the story about Jerome and the burning car in the parking lot outside the Vet.
But the one thing that really stands out is just what a true team guy Jerome was. For all his antics, he had such a fierce desire to win, and that’s what drove him.
I’ll never forget when Clyde Simmons finally made his first Pro Bowl team in 1991, his sixth NFL season. Clyde had recorded 15 1/2 sacks in a brilliant 1989 season and somehow was bypassed in the Pro Bowl voting, and it tore Jerome apart. When Clyde finally got the nod two years later - in his 6th NFL season - Jerome was so happy he punched his hand through a wall.
That was Jerome.
I stood in the tunnel behind first base at Veterans Stadium 28 years ago today and cried when Reggie stood at a podium behind second base and announced Brown’s death to a stunned crowd of 60,000 attending a Billy Graham Crusade.
“I came here tonight to give my personal testimony,” Reggie’s voice rang over the speakers. “But I'm going to have to alter that. My best friend, Jerome Brown, died tonight.”
It’s impossible not to wonder what kind of person Jerome would have become. Behind all the antics and bluster there was a genuinely kind-hearted young man. He had already started a football camp for kids down in Brooksville. He loved working with kids. He wanted to do the right thing.
We lost Jerome in 1992, Reggie in 2004, Andre in 2006, Wes in 2018. Some of the greatest players and personalities in Eagles history.
Honestly, when Jerome goofed around with me up at the hotel that day in 1989, I thought I separated my shoulder. It hurt.
I’m glad it happened, though. Because it helps me remember Jerome the way he really was.
Happy, carefree, spontaneous. And funny as hell.
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