Gary Brown's Great Life Was Predicted by What We Learned About Him in 1989.
Yesterday, Gary Brown, former Penn State, NFL player and NFL and college coach, lost his battle against cancer. Our hearts go out to his family and friends and the community of Williamsport—a place he took such great pride in as his hometown.
One aspect of Gary’s college career is something I should have written about while was still alive. But far too often time runs faster than even our best of intentions. It is a story that earned him the undying respect of Joe Paterno, a respect born of one player’s commitment to the team above self.
He had a great eight-years pro career as a running back. He was a respected and beloved running back coach in the NFL and at Wisconsin.
But all we ever really needed to know about the kind of person, player and coach Gary Brown would become we learned at Penn State in 1989.
Gary was beginning his junior year at Penn State after being Penn State’s leading rusher in 1988. As the fall of 1989 approached, All-American Blair Thomas was finally returning after blowing out his knee in December of 1987.
It is important to know some things about Gary Brown at that time. In the 1980s his alma mater Williamsport High and State College High often ended the season against each other in football. There was not a lot of love between the two teams.
Gary was a legend; in Williamsport he was loved, at State College High….not so much. His high school coach Tim Montgomery and State College High Coach Ron Pavlechko were college teammates at Penn State, which added to that rivalry. So everyone in Happy Valley knew Gary was a dominant running back and a speedy track guy.
Back then every great player in the state was targeted by Penn State, Notre Dame, Syracuse, Pitt and even Ohio State and Michigan. Eastern football was at a high point. From 1976 through 1988 three different eastern independent teams (Penn State, Pitt, West Virginia) played for the National Championship 6 times in a 13-year span winning the title three times. In addition, Syracuse finished undefeated in 1987. By comparison the next closest "conference", the SEC won two and shared one national title in that span.
So, with all that as background, Gary Brown coming to Penn State was no sure thing. But he did.