Fri, 02 Dec 2022

Massive man was irreplaceable on stellar 1996 defensive lineCliff Christl

Gilbert Brown

Inducted: 2008Defensive Tackle: 1993-99, 2001-03Height: 6-2; Weight: 345College: Kansas, 1989-92

The Packers' defensive line of Reggie White, Sean Jones, Santana Dotson and Gilbert Brown played only one season together, but it was climaxed by a Super Bowl victory and that "Front Four" was the foundation of the league's No. 1-ranked defense.

That season, 1996, also happened to be Brown's first as a fulltime starter and perhaps the most dominating of his career. "That was a great defensive line," Ron Wolf said 10 years later. "In my 41 years of football, I've never been associated with a better one than that. A lot of people would say, 'Reggie this or Reggie that,' but everything worked around what Gilbert did."

With White, one of the greatest defensive players in the history of the NFL, and Jones, a rangy 6-foot-7, 270 pounds, still athletic and savvier than ever at age 34, as the bookends funneling traffic inside, Brown served as a roadblock to nowhere. Not only was he an immovable force at 6-2 and 345 pounds, but he also had remarkable first-step quickness for someone that size.

While the Packers finished fourth in the regular season against the run, allowing just 88.5 yards per game, they were even stouter in the postseason, relinquishing an average of 52 yards over three games. In turn, the ripple effect was that opposing offenses were often behind the chains when they had to throw, and the Packers finished No. 1 in pass defense enroute to winning their first Super Bowl in 29 seasons.

When Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young reflected on San Francisco's three playoff losses to the Packers from 1995-97, along with another defeat in a Monday night, regular-season showdown in 1996, he credited Brown with being as much a factor in those games as anyone on defense. "When Green Bay was great, Gilbert Brown drove us crazy," Young said more than a decade later.

Drafted by Minnesota in the third round in 1993, Brown reported to camp out of shape and was so exhausted midway through his first practice that he belly-flopped to the ground and had to be dragged to the next drill by a teammate. Apparently, Brown never escaped defensive line coach John Teerlinck's doghouse and was waived on the final cutdown date, although the Vikings did so with the intention of signing him to their developmental squad.

However, Wolf, then the Packers' second-year general manager, foiled their plans by claiming Brown. Within hours, Wolf also sensed that his $100 bargain-hunting venture would pay off. "He came in and in full gear ran a 5.25 (in the 40-yard dash) at 365 pounds," Wolf remembered years later.

Brown played in only two games as a rookie and started only one in his second season, finishing the year on injured reserve after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in the 13th game. An elbow injury sidelined him for three games early in 1995, but Brown finally cracked the starting lineup in the eighth game and immediately bolstered the Packers' run defense.

In 1996, Brown became a human blockade all by himself, starting 16 regular-season games for the first time plus three playoff games. His stat line from that regular season included 56 total tackles, tops among the linemen. "I think the best thing about him is that he not only is a force in the middle, but he has the athletic ability to move from sideline to sideline," defensive line coach Larry Brooks said after the Packers had won the Super Bowl. "He has great movement for a big man that's surprising. He gets over bodies on the ground."

Due to knee, ankle and hip injuries and his ballooning weight, Brown played roughly half the snaps over the Packers' 19 total games in 1997 when they won their second consecutive NFC title before losing to Denver in the Super Bowl. While he could still be overpowering at times, Brown wasn't healthy enough or in good enough shape to consistently dominate. His play followed a similar pattern in 1998 and '99, and the Packers opted not to re-sign him before the 2000 season.

In March 2001, the team had a change of heart and decided to give a slim-downed Brown another shot - he weighed 339 at the start of camp, down from a reported 370 in 1999 - and he played three more seasons, starting 36 of 48 regular-season games and occasionally displaying flashes of his old form before being released in March 2004.

Despite his ups and downs, Brown lasted 10 seasons, more than any defensive tackle in team history other than Dave Hanner and Pro Football Hall of Famer Henry Jordan. In all, Brown played in 125 games and started 103. He also played in 16 postseason games, starting in 13 straight from 1995 through a wild-card game following the 2002 season.

Nicknamed "The Gravedigger," Brown was a fan favorite partly because of his celebratory shoveling stunt when he made a big play, but also because of his girth and engaging personality.

Born Feb. 22, 1971. Given name Gilbert Jesse Brown.

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