Once A Jayhawk, Always A Jayhawk: Gilbert Brown
Gilbert Brown looks forward to his return to the University of Kansas with an opportunity to the football team. Brown knows KU is trying to turn the program around, and who better to rally the team than one of the guys who been a part of Jayhawk turnaround before?
Brown’s journey began in Farmington, Michigan. Brown was a self-proclaimed “momma’s boy” who didn’t play many sports growing up, but spent a lot of time watching his older brother playing football, basketball or baseball. Though Brown would play the occasional neighborhood street game, it wasn’t until high school when he joined organized sports.
“My brother got me to play in high school,” said Brown. “He kept saying ‘Gilbert, you’re too big to just be sitting around doing nothing. So I tried it and fell in love with football.”
Among several athletes who received Division I scholarships including National Football League Hall of Fame member Jerome Bettis, Brown shined on the gridiron at Mackenzie High School where the defensive lineman recorded 189 tackles and nine sacks gaining All-City and All-State accolades.
Brown would receive several scholarship offers from the likes of Michigan, Michigan State, UCLA, Kansas and Minnesota. After an initial visit to Minnesota, Brown was still undecided on where he would attend college and play football. Still searching, he took a trip to Lawrence and loved it.
“On my visit they showed me the Jayhawk Towers,” Brown remembered. “They had so much space, I was hooked. There were tons of Detroit guys already on the roster and the coaches said I would have an opportunity to come in and start. Kansas wasn’t on the map quite yet (where football was concerned). I enjoy a challenge, so I went (for it) and it turned out to be the best decision for me.”
During Brown’s first season at Kansas, things didn’t go quite as planned on the field as the Jayhawks amassed a 4-7 record. Following his second season, KU finished 3-7-1 and the guys were starting to buy in and a change was occurring on campus. Brown credited the coaching staff for getting the team hungry for more wins. In 1991, in his junior year, Brown helped Kansas finish with a 6-5 record, the first winning season at KU since 1981. According to Brown, guys on the team were believing in the program and really buying into what coaches Glen Mason and Reggie Mitchell were teaching. But the best was yet to come. In his senior season, Kansas finished 8-4 and defeated BYU in the Aloha Bowl game, KU’s first bowl win since 1961.
“Ending my career at KU with a bowl win was a great feeling and a great accomplishment,” Brown stated with pride. “We really jelled that season and it showed on the field. Obviously, in life, you look back on things and wish you could have done more and I certainly wish that, but being a part of that team was a great run.”
In that magical 1992 season, Brown and his fellow Jayhawk teammates set a standard. Their goal, according to Brown, was to hit anything that moved. They finished the year ranked in the top-five in the nation defensively.
On the field the Jayhawks were winning, but off the field Brown was struggling with the death of his father during his senior season. Brown didn’t start for the first few games that year and believed his draft stock slipped a little. His driven attitude helped him push forward, regain his starting spot and get drafted in the third round of the 1993 National Football League (NFL) Draft by the Minnesota Vikings.
Just a day after being waived by the Vikings, Brown was picked up by Green Bay, where he’d receive the chance to build a life and career. The Packers were returning quarterback Brett Farve and defensive lineman Reggie White, among other superstars, making them a favorite in the National Football Conference.
“I got to Green Bay and just stuck to Reggie (White),” said Brown. “I tried to soak everything up he said or did like a sponge and really learn from him the best I could. It was a great chance for me to get away and focus on just football. At the time, the biggest thing in Green Bay was the Best Buy so there weren’t many distractions, which really helped me.”
His love for Green Bay was evident in 1996 as Brown opted to sign a contract worth a few million dollars less to stay at Green Bay rather than sign with Jacksonville as a free agent. According to Brown, money wasn’t everything; he loved football and respected the game. He loved the tradition in Green Bay and that’s why he stayed.
“Playing in Green Bay was a dream come true,” said Brown. “I was truly honored and privileged to play for the Packers. Green Bay has the best fans in the world and it was an incredible ride.”
Brown played in two Super Bowls with the Packers, winning one championship in 1997 over the New England Patriots. The following season, Green Bay reached the title game again, but fell 31-24 to John Elway and the Denver Broncos. He finished his career playing in 15 playoff games, second in franchise history behind Brett Farve (22). Brown ended his NFL days in 2003 and was elected to the Packers’ Hall of Fame in 2008.
Brown still follows the Kansas football program and keeps in touch with many of the Jayhawks currently in the NFL, including Denver Bronco cornerback Aqib Talib.
“I keep in touch with several of the old KU guys,” Brown explained. “I love the University of Kansas. I love the Jayhawk fans and I love my teammates. I haven’t been back to Lawrence in some time, but I think it would be a great experience to come back and give a pep talk to the guys before a game. I would love to get back to Kansas.”
Once a Jayhawk, Always a Jayhawk