Throwback Thursday Podcast: Micah Brown

The voice of the Kansas Jayhawks, Brian Hanni, will periodically catch-up with former Kansas student-athletes and staff members as part of his Throwback Thursday podcast. Take a stroll down memory lane with Hanni as he’s joined this week by former Kansas football player Micah Brown. 

Brian Hanni (BH): Today on the throwback Thursday podcast, we’re pleased to bring you Micah Brown, one of my personal favorites and a guy who’s famously known for the faked punt versus Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. Maybe now even more well known for the fact that he’s a multi time Emmy Award winning cinematographer working with sports documentaries. Before we get into all of that though Micah, catch us up to speed on your personal life back home in Lawrence with a lovely wife and a newborn baby boy.

Micah Brown (MB): Yeah, I feel a little like father Lawrence now, I kinda left for a little bit, then came back when Turner was the head coach. Got to work for KU for a couple years, then left there and started my own company called Second Wind Creative, where we specialize in sports documentaries and doing a bunch of different sports features, like he mentioned. I live here with my wife Leanna, we just had a baby boy, seven months ago, named Dawson. His name is Dawson, named after Chris Dawson our old strength coach and my college roommate Jeff Foster who was a wide receiver for us. So things are going good we live here in Lawrence and just love our time here.

BH: Glad you cleared up any potential concern that you would’ve named him after Dawson’s Creek. But no worries there, Chris Dawson instead. Let’s talk about your career on the field, then I want to get into the film making. But of course everybody remembers you for the faked punt and the reception on the end of a Brandon McAnderson pass in that 2008 Orange Bowl win over Virginia Tech. Take us back to that moment and how it unfolded, because this was a very unscripted play for a guy who now writes scripts professionally.

MB: That game, as many things did happen in that game, was very unscripted and very random. We had gotten into a situation where they were driving back, they had returned the punt for a touchdown, we were losing a little bit of momentum. They had held us to a three-and-out and we huddled up and Coach Bowen said we were going to punt. And he said, “Hey if there’s an opportunity to fake, we might run a fake.” The only problem was that they had never practiced a fake to my side because of the blocking scheme, they’d always thrown to the other side, which was Justin Thornton. So we got out on the field and I noticed that the guy covering me kinda creeped in a little bit and he was lined up to go block the punt and the rules that we had set was that I was supposed to look at Brandon and he would call me down so that they didn’t snap the ball and we’d get a penalty. And so I was looking at him and just screaming for him to come check me in and it never happened. Instead they snapped the ball and so I didn’t know what to do, so I kind of jogged off the line thinking oh well they’re going to block it because we don’t have enough guys to block them. So I was getting ready to chase down a guy after they blocked the punt and suddenly I noticed this wobbly ball come flying up in the air. And I’m like, I don’t know if it got kicked, I don’t know if it got thrown, I don’t know what happened. So thankfully, I caught it. Turned up field and there was a guy who had an angle on me. I always tell Brandon McAnderson if he had just laid it out there I might’ve been a real hero. Probably would’ve done a Raimond Pendleton and dove into the end zone and just taken it to the locker room after that. But I was lucky to make a big play for us, and the rest is history.

BH: You guys get together on a regular basis now reminiscing, you say you owe him one and I think he owes you one because that pass was behind you and low! If he doesn’t complete that and he still got chewed out even though he did on the sideline, but what happens if that pass falls incomplete?

MB: I have these recurring nightmares where I think about if I had dropped that ball what would’ve happened, if I had just covered the punt what would’ve happened? It definitely been one of those egg on the face moments for me, but luckily it didn’t happen that way.

BH: But you guys still get together and talk about it to this day?

MB: Right, yep, I try to take Brandon to a game a year at least. I just feel like I am eternally indebted to him and trust me he reminds me of that as well.

BH: That was your one career catch.

MB: It was, it was my one career target as well. So hey, if I had gotten maybe a little more targets, who knows.

BH: Let’s talk about your inspiration to go out for football in the first place. I was reading articles about you coming out of the state of Nebraska as this triple jump star, but you only weighed 106 pounds and your buddies thought you were crazy to walk on the football team. What gave you the inspiration to play for Mark Mangino?

MB: I remember going to the K-State game when I was a freshman, I was doing track, and I was sitting in the crowd and John Randall broke this big run and he ran into the end zone and after the game I was out there with all of the students and we were tearing down the goal post and I thought, man, I want to be a part of something like this. I could just see the momentum going towards KU football being something really special. I thought hey, if I get hurt, I can always go back and do track, but there are only so many moments in your life you get the opportunity to play football. You can go play basketball, you can do track, you can do any other sport, but football you window to play it is so so small. So I went and met with Coach Bowen and showed him my film and he said it looks like you can really run. I was a running back in high school but he said I don’t know if you’re quite good enough to play as a running back on our team, but we’d love to have you as a wide receiver. I can’t promise you that you’ll get to play, we’ve got some good guys in here, but I can promise you that if you work hard we’ll give you a chance. And I said that’s all I need is a chance.

BH: When did you realize this program was really starting to ascend? And by the time you’d hang em up, you’d have a chance to go to a bowl game or two and maybe even a BSC bowl? I don’t know if that ever entered into the stream of consciousness until you were in the midst of that season, but you got in on the ground floor and yet they were starting to ascend a bit. When did you think, man, we might have something here?

MB: I think I knew we had something there when we were going through all the workouts and it didn’t matter if you were an All-American or if you were a walk-on. There was a great standard of work ethic that everyone had and a walk-on could yell at an All-American to get going and an All-American could yell at a walk-on. Guys were pretty aggressive and competitive through practice and it didn’t matter who you were. There was nobody who was untouchable and there was a great sense of pride. So I knew that something like that was special and something like that was unique. Because everybody was working towards a common mission and it wasn’t about one individual person.

BH: You finish up after two bowl games and then you pursue this career in film. How long did you have this dream and obviously the first glimpse Kansas fans saw of you with this dream was through The Grid Iron, which folks can still access today. But to see it come to fruition through the vehicle that brought you perhaps your greatest joy during your college days, Kansas football, that had to be especially fulfilling.

MB: Yeah, making movies and doing things like that were always a passion of mine. I went to film school and even way before that when I was a little kid I was always writing scripts and dreaming about something bigger. My parents played a huge role in fostering that creativity in me and they were always very supportive. When I got the opportunity to exercise that through something I knew so well in sports it kind of enabled me and empowered me to do something that a lot of people didn’t really consider as an avenue in film. I didn’t really even consider doing sports documentaries until I did it with The Gridiron. I found it to be really rewarding.

BH: How did that come about? Access to Turner Gill’s program, unlike we’d seen from a Kansas fan’s perspective before, but told in a narrative that really was on par professionally with some of the great HBO documentaries that were going on at that point. I watched your stuff and I thought wow, this is Hard Knocks caliber stuff here. And this is 23-year-old Micah Brown doing this! Tell me about how this brain child came about that set you on a path to now winning multiple Emmy awards.

MB: Well, I had known Turner ever since I was a little kid because he played football with my dad at Nebraska. So I think that when the job opened up and he got that job, he called me,
George Matsakis called me, because he had known me as a player who used to make some highlights in his spare time when I was doing an internship with Rock Chalk Video. They really gave me the opportunity to come back and try and do something from a recruiting perspective. Because my relationship with Turner, I was able to pitch him on something bigger. Because he trusted me, that I would represent him in a good way, and I cared about the program, it was an easy sell. And because of that things really started rolling.

BH: Tell me about how things started rolling. You send out The Gridiron to producers and other networks and my oh my opportunities just start to unfold.

MB: Well, I was really fortunate about the timing of it. There really hadn’t been another college-based all-access series. There’s the Big Ten’s The Journey, and that was really it. So when The Gridiron came out, a lot of people got exposure to something they really hadn’t considered at a college level. From there it kind of blew up on YouTube and blew up on other networks noticing what one guy was able to do. I was really fortunate that when I did leave KU it was an easy transition for me to be able to connect with some people who were just starting to do this kind of work.

BH: You’ve worked literally for about everybody, in terms of the networks now, in projects that have won you numerous awards. I referenced a couple Emmys but that’s just you being modest. There’s other projects you’ve contributed on that have won additional Emmy Awards. Take us through some of your finest work.

MB: Some of the projects I like the most, I do a lot of E60 stuff, worked on a couple 30 for 30’s, I worked on a boxing show for Showtime called All Access that’s won two consecutive Emmys now. I really enjoy different TV based stuff. I’ve been really fortunate to be able to work with just about every network out there both as a cinematographer and a director and even some cases as an editor. In some cases I’ll come in and I’ll shoot, produce and edit the piece to completion. I really get excited about any story that is showing us something different. That is not just your typical I was broke and now I made it. So any story that can really push the needle in telling us something different I take pride in.

BH: How do those stories come across your desk? Or how do you stumble upon those stories like that?

MB: It happens a lot of different ways. Networks typically have their own people that are tracking down different stories then I’ll get hired to tell that story in the best way possible. Whether it’s visual or editing  or producing or whatever position they hire me in. For my own stuff, it’s just a lot of research. You start to think about different themes you want to talk about and one of those themes may be forgiveness. So you start looking at different stories that represent that theme of forgiveness. What do you really want to say about that? Some of that may be what the love of sports means to some people and how that can overcloud your judgment. It just really depends on what you’re trying to say as a filmmaker. For me, where I’m at in my life and what do I think can make the biggest impact on other people.

BH: For fans of 30 for 30’s or E60’s, how many months of work goes into one of these episodes?

MB: You know, it really depends. Typically like a documentary that I’m working on right now, it’s taken about two years. Sometimes it takes about a year to develop it, to get the access to it, sometimes the hardest part is getting the money, so getting people to commit to that. And then you go shoot it and it’ll be about three months of shooting. Then editing, you have to put about another 10 months into that. So it can take a long time and certainly can get really tiring, working on the same story for that long, but in the end it’s rewarding.