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Memories of NFL star Jerome Brown hit home in Brooksville, beyond

I recently drove my teenage son by the two crosses on Hale Avenue that mark the tragic spot where Jerome Brown flipped his Chevrolet Corvette, killing himself and his 12-year-old nephew, Gus.

Young people and newcomers to Brooksville should know about Brown. He was that good of a player, and he was that loyal to his hometown. Those of us who have lived here awhile, well, most of us don't need to learn. We remember the car accident, on June 25, 1992. We certainly remember Brown.

So, it turns out, do football people.

Last week, a crew from NFL Films came to Brooksville to interview Brown's family members, friends and coaches for a new series called A Football Life.

An episode about Brown — who died in the prime of his career at age 27 — and his fellow All-Pro and Philadelphia Eagles teammate Reggie White is scheduled to air on the NFL Network in mid September, said executive producer Digger O'Brien.

Why Brown after all these years?

"A lot of people forget how great those Eagle defenses were," O'Brien said. "A lot of people forget how great Jerome was. And a lot of people forget that Reggie was even an Eagle."

Though he won his only Super Bowl with the Green Bay Packers, White was absolutely an Eagle, absolutely a great teammate of Brown's, O'Brien said.

White was a spectacular pass rusher, maybe the best ever. Brown got his share of sacks, too, but his main job was controlling the line of scrimmage.

White, known as the "Minister of Defense," was a pious straight-arrow. Brown was a joker who looked forward to a night out after his games. He was a leader of the swaggering 1980s University of Miami football teams, maybe even the leader, according to players interviewed for the 2009 documentary, The U, about those Miami teams. Remember, it was Brown's idea for Hurricanes players to show up in Phoenix for the 1987 Fiesta Bowl wearing Army fatigues.

Brown and White were very different, but became less so as they spent more time together, O'Brien said.

Brown taught White to relax, have a little more fun. Besides viewing film of the Eagles' awesome, crushing defense, O'Brien has seen footage of White doing a surprisingly dead-on imitation of Rodney Dangerfield.

And Brown, O'Brien said, "was seeing how White lived his life, and was learning to be more like him, to be more serious. … What we've heard so far is that they definitely had a big-brother, little-brother relationship."

Brown was always generous, people who knew him say. But if he gave his time and money in a more organized, committed way in the last years of his life, maybe that was partly White's influence.

In any case, that's what people remember about him, that he gave, and gave a lot.

He presented graduating seniors at his church with $100 bills. He and his Eagles teammates donated thousands of dollars to the father of an 11-year-old girl who was gravely injured when she was hit by a truck on Jefferson Street in Brooksville.

He signed autographs to raise money for a youth basketball team from Brooksville to tour Ireland.

He held football clinics for Brooksville kids with his Eagles teammates.

And, oh yeah, he had a lot of fun, too.

Julia Jinkens, who knew Brown through her son, Tim, the co-owner of the Red Mule Pub in Brooksville and a close friend of Brown's, said that one time in Philadelphia, Brown loaded a few Eagles, including White and quarterback Randall Cunningham, into a van.

"He said, 'We're going to Brooksville,' " Mrs. Jinkens said, "and of course they all said, 'Where's Brooksville?' Well, he showed them."

On another occasion, a few weeks before his death at an alcohol-free graduation celebration for Hernando High School students, Mrs. Jinkens shamed Brown into taking the karaoke microphone by threatening to tell his mother if he didn't.

"He got up there and sang Celebration and a couple of other songs, too," she said.

Sometimes Brown would show up at the Red Mule near closing time, so he could play cards late into the night with Tim Jinkens and his other friends without being bothered by autograph seekers.

Mrs. Jinkens remembers it all so well and so fondly that she teared up several times as she was being interviewed by the NFL Films crew Friday morning, she said.

"And I'm just so proud they are remembering him, too."

Memories of NFL star Jerome Brown hit home in Brooksville, beyond 07/09/11 [Last modified: Saturday, July 9, 2011 9:37am]
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