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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

New England Sports 366, #80: Troy Brown

Much ink has been spilled chronicling the improbability of Tom Brady, arising from the 199th pick in the draft to become the greatest football player of all time. And yet one of his vital teammates in the first chapter of the dynasty he co-authored had a similar, if not even more improbable story.

Troy Brown was a heck of a punt and kick returner at Marshall back in the early 90s. His near-30 yard career kick return average remains an NCAA record, as do his four kickoff returns for TDs. He helped Marshall win the I-AA national title in 1992, and he sealed that win with an interception. Even in college, the guy was all over the field.

He was drafted in the eighth round (when there was an eighth round) of the 1993 NFL draft by Patriots and coach Bill (Parcells, not Belichick). He was the 198th pick overall, almost exactly the same draft slot TB12 would occupy seven years later. Except Brown didn't make the team, at least not at first. He was a preseason cut, though he came back and joined the squad in October. He cracked the wide receiver corps in 1995, and in 1996 was part of that first modern Patriots Super Bowl team, catching 21 balls for 221 yards from Drew Bledsoe (though none in Super Bowl XXXI). Brown remained a reliable if not spectacular receiver for Drew over the next few years. His 83 catches in 2000 were the harbinger of what was to come.

It was in 2001 that everything changed for the Brown, the Patriots, and league history. Bledsoe went down and Brady came in, and immediately Troy Brown was his guy. Brown caught 198 balls for 2,089 yards over the next two years, including a dominant 2001 that ended with 101 catches and trips to the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl. It was the first of his three rings in five trips to the big game with the Pats.

Brown's prominence in the passing game declined after 2003, as did his role as the team's lead punt returner. But Troy Brown was only partially about bulk stats or box scores. He did all the little things, and the clutch big things, that make a football team win. Our enduring memories of number 80 are overtime touchdown catches that break historic losing streaks in Miami, punt returns for scores against Pittsburgh in the playoffs (and lateraling blocked field goals for touchdowns), stripping intercepted balls against the Chargers in the playoffs, and being pressed into service as an emergency cornerback and making three picks. The guy was a football player, especially when it mattered most.

Brown finished up as the Patriots career leader in punt returns and ranks third all-time with 557 catches. He's the only player in NFL history with 550 catches, 250 punt returns, and an interception. He's in the Patriots Hall of Fame, and he belongs there. Not bad for an eighth round pick who got cut in his first preseason.

Bingo. We won again.

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