Chad Brown, Steelers Linebacker, 1993-1996, 2006
First, can you tell readers what you are doing with yourself these days?
My wife would ask what I’m not doing. I’m on radio and tv – analyzing football of course. Working with Animal Planet as well on a show – of course working in my lifelong interest in animals.
There was a fire recently that destroyed my snake business – I lost 2,500 snakes. I’m now trying to reconfigure the business into something new. Not breeding – but helping breeders with this new animal shipping business that helps reptile breeders get animals anywhere in the country.
You came to the Steelers as a second-round pick. How did you handle the pressure and expectations that went with that high-round pick?
In hindsight I didn’t handle the pressure well. I quickly established myself as a third-down pass rusher. But I didn’t dedicate myself t0 the second-down aspect of the game. Jerry Olsavsky was in front of me and I thought it was his job. So, I didn’t pay attention in the film room and wasn’t prepared. I conceded the job to Jerry.
Well, Jerry O, tore up his knee and I was ready to go in but they put undrafted free agent Reggie Barnes ahead of me. He was hungrier – as an undrafted free agent he had to earn his spot.
How did you handle that?
That Monday I marched into Marvin Lewis’ office. As he tells it, I pounded on the table with my fists and demanded the job. I’m not sure it happened quite that way (laughing). But I did tell him I made a mistake – I would never be unprepared again.
How did he take it?
He saw I was talented and had passion for the game. I conceded the job to Jerry and became passive. It was a rookie, idiotic move. You have to prepare for every snap.
Who helped mentor you as a rookie – helped you adjust to the game – both on and off the field?
I was in the locker room with truly great players. Woodson was two lockers down from me. Lloyd, Greene, Kirkland….I didn’t have to look far for leadership.
My wife was friends with a lot of the other wives. Once, Carnell Lake and his wife invited us to dinner. Carnell took me on a quick tour of his house and showed me his $12,000 treadmill. He had it in his den, so he couldn’t miss it. It would call his name every day.
To have that, rain or shine was a huge thing to me – to stay in shape no matter what. If it was that important to Carnell Lake it should be to me too. I said, “Note to self – I’m going to buy that same treadmill.”
I used all my incentive money to by myself that treadmill. That little thing was a big lesson to me.
Some players we spoke to talked of getting too wrapped up in the off-field partying. Did you?
I’m a guy who needs sleep to be effective. I learned that in Colorado. Partying was never an issue for me. I also had a bunch of guys on that Steelers team from Colorado – Steed, Ariel Solomon, Howe, Wilcox. We’d all been down that road and they helped make sure to steer me in the right direction too.
How did you handle the competition at that crowded linebacker spot?
If you don’t embrace the competition you won’t last long in the NFL. I was competing with veterans and rookie draft picks – the Steelers drafted linebackers every year.
Barry Foster told me that the coaches don’t love you. Not that they don’t care about you. But good play is what keeps you on the field. There aren’t any guarantees.
How did the team stay loose?
We definitely kept it loose. Whether it was Eric Green wearing bright red pants to practice (he didn’t have the figure for those pants!). Or Lloyd and Greene using the jug machine to hit Cowher with footballs from half a field away.
Laughter is so important. You have to enjoy your team and the game. It speaks volumes about you and the team if you can’t have fun as a team or individual.
How hard was the adjustment to the 3-4 for you?
I played the 3-4 in college. The techniques and terminology changed of course. I played inside and outside at Colorado so that helped too.
Two days before the draft Cowher called me and asked if I could play inside as well as outside. I told him I’d punt if I had to! I made the move seamlessly.
Why do you think he made that call?
They flew me in before the draft and had me watch film with Marvin Lewis. The film we watched was of outside linebackers – he was probing me on that spot. But they signed Kevin Greene two days before the draft. Maybe I said the right things to help them think I could move inside or maybe the film of me they watched was enough for them to feel confident in me.
I was the only inside linebacker that was also a third-down pass rusher in the NFL then. The staff did a great job seeing my value was in more than just one spot.
In 1997 you left the team in free agency for Seattle. Why did you make the move and how hard was that for you?
It was super tough. Being a Steeler was special – I knew that even though I hadn’t played anywhere else. Every hotel we went to was crowded – there were crowds everywhere. You didn’t have that with other teams. Every team doesn;t have Super Bowl trophies you walk by every day.
But, football is a passion and a job. The Steelers were limited money-wise. They just re-signed Lloyd. They didn’t have the new stadium then that would get them more money. They didn’t have George Allen. And, they needed to re-sign Jerome Bettis too.
It was a no-brainer financially for me. It was just shocking how different it was. Seattle fans would ask me if I was still playing – I just made the Pro Bowl that year! It was like playing in the Canadian League.
Ten Years Later, you came back. What was that like for you?
The trainers, the equipment guys, Cowher’s secretary – they were all still there. Rooney was still walking around.
The fans were awesome – they cheered for me and welcomed me back. I missed that part of the football experience.
I told Cowher I couldn’t keep standing on the sidelines watching everyone else play. I wasn’t going to beat out Joey Porter, so I asked him to let me play on special teams. I was a thirty-seven year old helping out on returns. I just wanted to contribute.
What are your best memories of Pittsburgh?
I learned how to be a pro there. I had great coaches like Capers, Lewis and LeBeau. I played for the Patriots and Seahawks, but I always saw myself as a Steeler.
With Cowher, it was always about physical, aggressive play. Billichick was about thinking about the play first – smart football and slowing it all down. It was hard to adjust to that. I preferred the physical style of play.
Any last thoughts for readers?
For fans and players reading this – being a part of Steeler Nation is truly special. The Patriots were special but it’s not the same feel and relationship with the city. The Steelers are the city – you can’t separate the two. There are kids wearing Steelers diapers, in Steelers sheets in Steelers cribs. These are in real houses – not just on tv.
You can’t remove the Steelers from the city. They are one and the same.