🎙 The Jayhawker Podcast | Gilbert Brown
Episode 39: Gilbert Brown | October 8, 2020
With a nickname like “The Gravedigger,” you better be a nightmare for the opposing team.
And Gilbert Brown was just that—an imposing figure who was dominate over offensive lines throughout his college and NFL careers.
The Detroit native could have written his ticket to play at numerous major conference schools including some of the best of the Big Ten, so why’d he decide that Kansas and the Big 8 was the right fit for him?
This week on The Jayhawker podcast we go inside Brown’s journey to Kansas as well as spotlight his successful 10-year NFL career which included a victory in Super Bowl XXXI.
For Brown, the road to Super Bowl glory began with choosing Kansas over Michigan, Michigan State and Minnesota.
“Reggie Mitchell was my lead recruiter (from Kansas),” recalled Brown. “He was pretty honest with me. He said, ‘Hey man, if you come to the University of Kansas you’ve got an opportunity to start – we’re not going to give it to you – but you can earn it and you can do something great on your own.’”
Brown would have had to wait his turn at other schools and Minnesota wanted him to play offensive line which was of no interest to him. So, Brown picked Kansas and put himself on a course to collegiate stardom as part of a defensive line that would feature three future NFL players: Dana Stubblefield, Chris Maumalanga and himself.
Brown says it was not only an ultra-talented group, but they were super close as well.
“Those bonds pushed us to be the most cohesive defensive line,” described Brown. “My senior year there was just so much talent at the defensive tackle position that they had to find ways to get us all on the field. At times they tried to give us a three-man rotation type of thing.”
KU’s big three upfront helped the Jayhawks win seven of their first eight games and climb as high as #13 in the polls. Ultimately, they would deliver KU’s first bowl appearance in over a decade – a 23-20 victory over BYU in the 1992 Aloha Bowl.
Brown and his fellow standouts on the KU D-line helped Coach Glen Mason restore pride to the Jayhawk program and Brown made quite a name for himself in the process – both his given name and his new nickname: “The Gravedigger.”
“Everybody has an identity,” explained Brown. “I always wore the dark visor and ‘Darth Vader’ was already taken. My persona of it goes back to me being that guy that where if I put my helmet on, I’m ferocious, I take no prisoners. I’m ‘Atilla the Hun.’ I ain’t your friend.”
“When I take that helmet off, I’m a gentleman,” Brown continued. “I’m gonna respect you. I’m gonna do the things my mama taught me to do. But my mama didn’t teach me to play football so when I put that helmet on, I’m gonna hurt you. I had to have a different personality because I’m a nice guy. But when I put that helmet on, I’m not nice no more. So, I had to have two people. So, when I take my helmet off, I’m Gilbert Brown, but when I put it on, I’m ‘The Gravedigger.’”
Along with the nickname soon came a post-sack “grave-digging” celebration, something that helped Brown earn a huge following amongst Packer fans at the next level. With each NFL season, Brown’s reputation grew and grew. He played a key role in 15 Green Bay playoff games – only three Packers have ever appeared in more. A fan favorite, the Wisconsin Burger Kings even gave Brown his own hamburger, “The Gilbertburger,” during the 1996 Super Bowl season -a recipe that was originally inspired in Lawrence.
Ultimately, Brown would earn a spot in the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in 2008 and the University of Kansas Ring of Honor in 2017. It was a mammoth career for a larger than life personality. And it all started at Kansas.
Go inside Brown’s rise to football stardom and learn how he helped both Kansas and Green Bay restore their winning traditions on this week’s episode of The Jayhawker.