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Jerome Brown film elicits memories, pride in Brooksville

The Red Mule Pub was one of Jerome Brown's favorite hangouts, and co-owner Tim Jinkens was one of his best friends, which required tolerance and a sense of humor.

Rather than eat the pub's sandwiches, Brown would bring in jumbo-size bags of Captain D's fish and chips, which he devoured while sitting just inside the front door.

"He'd be telling customers, 'You got to get some of this fish,' " Jinkens said.

"Then he'd say, 'Timmy, did you ever get that rat problem taken care of?' "

Jinkens told me this at his Brooksville pub just before the start of the excellent hourlong documentary, Reggie White and Jerome Brown: A Football Life, Thursday night on the NFL Network.

I took my 14-year-old son, who after a summer visit with his aunt in Brooklyn, has started grumbling about living in Brooksville. I thought maybe he needed to see how people in small towns bond over memories of great athletes such as Brown, who grew up in Brooksville.

Football Life showed us how great. There was footage of Brown exploding off the defensive line, tossing aside offensive guards, chasing down quarterbacks such as Phil Simms, Troy Aikman and Brett Favre.

They testified on camera that no experience in football was as terrifying as walking onto the rock-hard turf at Philadelphia's old Veterans Stadium and lining up across from Brown and White. Favre called their Philadelphia Eagles defense "the most imposing and dominating I've ever seen."

"Jerome Brown, Reggie White — who you going to double team?" asked former Eagles tight end Keith Jackson.

Brown's teammates and coaches also remembered his extremist idea of fun. Former Eagle defensive lineman Mike Golic said that even at Brown's funeral, he expected him to sit up in the casket and tell them it was all a joke.

The defensive coordinator on Brown's Eagles teams, Jeff Fisher, told how Brown liked to chase seagulls on his high-powered motorcycle in the Veterans parking lot at 80 mph.

"There was a wild side to Jerome Brown, and Reggie was always trying to get him to settle down," Fisher said.

That was the main theme of the show — the religious family man, White, trying to tame his close friend Brown, the partier and prankster.

It was starting to take, too, which was the tragic part — along with White's youthful death, 12 years after Brown's, of heart and lung disease.

One scene showed Brown, whose previous idea of an off-season training session was a trip to Hardee's, setting off on a bike ride after the 1991 season. The following spring, he invited his teammates down to help teach a youth football camp in Brooksville.

"Reggie would have a crew (of children), and Jerome would have a crew, and he was a happy man," said Jerome's father, Willie, in the film.

Of course, White didn't completely change Brown. Just a few weeks after the camp in 1992, Brown crashed his speeding Corvette in Brooksville, killing himself at age 27 along with his 12-year-old nephew, Gus.

"He died and took my grandson with him, and that really hurt," said a shattered-looking Willie Brown, whom Julia Jinkens, Tim's mother, had invited to the pub for the showing.

"He asked me, 'Are they going to show the car?' I told him, 'Yes, I think they are,' " Mrs. Jinkens said.

Mr. Brown told her he couldn't bear to see it and declined.

The aftermath of Brown's death, though, was almost as inspiring as it was sad.

His teammates dedicated their season to him. His locker was left as a shrine, and players broke up their pregame huddles with the chant "One, two, three — J.B.!" When their season ended after a playoff loss to New Orleans, they just weren't disappointed at the defeat; they were devastated they had let down Brown.

Anywhere we watched it, my son and I would have enjoyed this show — which, given the network's way of recycling content, is sure to show up again before long.

But seeing it at the cozy, memorabilia-stuffed Red Mule was even better because folks at the bar confirmed what the film told us. And the film told us what we heard from the people who knew Brown in Brooksville.

How good was he as an athlete? Richard Johnson, a county employee who in the 1980s helped broadcast Brown's games for Brooksville's WWJB radio station, remembered Brown's booming kickoffs sailing through the uprights.

"Every one was a field goal," he said.

Did his teammates really love him as much as they said in interviews? Well, they sure kept their promise to build a facility for Brooksville's youth in his honor, even though it took eight years and multiple visits to Brooksville by teammates such as Jackson, said Carey Carlson, the cement company executive who helped lead the project.

"He was incredible," Carlson said of Jackson.

Was Brown really funny? Hilarious, as long you had thick skin, Jinkens said.

Was he really loyal to his old, hometown friends like Mrs. Jinkens? It was right there on film: Brown wearing a vast, bright-yellow T-shirt with printed words that asked: "Have you seen my other mom, Julia?"

On the ride home, after my son said the show "was, like, the best thing I've ever seen," he allowed that "maybe Brooksville isn't too bad."

Of course not. It's where Jerome Brown's from.

Jerome Brown film elicits memories, pride in Brooksville 10/01/11 [Last modified: Saturday, October 1, 2011 1:50pm]

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