Just as Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Jerome Brown served notice he was one of the best in the National Football League, unspeakable tragedy struck without warning.
Brown and his 12-year-old nephew were killed in an automobile accident in Brooksville, FL on June 25, 1992.
Brown became a two-time Pro Bowler and First-Team All-Pro selection in 1990 and 1991. He was one of the vital cogs of Buddy Ryan’s famous 46 defense in the mid to late 1980s.
During Brown’s colorful pro football career, he grew close to another legendary pass rusher, Reggie White.
Brown also helped the Seattle Seahawks’ Cortez Kennedy become one of the most feared defensive linemen in the pro football ranks.
Truly, Eagles Nation will never forget the legacy of big Jerome Brown.
Willie Jerome Brown III was born to parents Willie and Annie in Brooksville, FL on February 4, 1965. He was the second-youngest of 10 children.
Brown’s father Willie worked as a truck mechanic to make ends meet, per Sports Illustrated‘s Rick Reilly.
Jerome Brown attended Hernando High School in his hometown of Brooksville, FL.
Brown had his share of off-the-field shenanigans as a teenager. He had two children with two different women, per Reilly.
Not only that, but Brown also once chugged beer on a dare in his teachers’ presence.
However, big Jerome Brown also had a soft side. He sang and played drums for his church’s choir in Brooksville, FL, per Sports Illustrated’s Dave Scheiber.
Learning to Drive
Jerome Brown first learned how to drive a car when he was in high school. The first time he sat behind the wheel, he drove in rainy conditions with other cars cruising at an average speed of 75 miles per hour. With his dad, Willie, in the front passenger seat, Brown was lagging behind.
His exasperated father told him to step on the gas or he wouldn’t allow him to drive again. Jerome Brown promptly obliged.
“I hit it and ain’t slowed down since,” Brown said (via Sports Illustrated’s July 6, 1992 issue).
Tragically, Brown’s life would end behind the wheel at just 27 years old.
Awesome auction items for our golf outing on July 20th at Brooksville CC. These items were donated from Sara White, wife of late great Reggie White. All proceeds go towards a turf field at Hernando High and would be named after late Hernando, Miami and Eagles great Jerome Brown pic.twitter.com/C6MD04JiRW
— Hernando Athletics (@leopardsath) June 13, 2019
Brown worked for trucking company owner Melvin Johnson for two years when he was in high school. Johnson had no idea Brown was younger than 16 years old. He’d thought he was old enough to work because of his massive frame.
It wasn’t until Brown asked Johnson if he could take a day off so he could apply for a driver’s license that the latter found out about his real age, per Sports Illustrated.
Willie Brown wanted Jerome to become the first of his ten children to go to college. He gave Jerome $50 or $100 every time he made the honor roll at Hernando High School. He also promised Jerome he’d buy him an automobile once he reached the tertiary level.
Jerome Brown accepted his dad’s challenge. Not only did he get high grades, but he also earned Parade Magazine All-American honors following his senior season with the Hernando Leopards.
For his part, his dad Willie kept his promise. He bought his son a Mercury Capri which Jerome drove to South Florida.
Jerome Brown’s college football journey with the Miami Hurricanes had officially begun.
College Days with the Miami Hurricanes
Jerome Brown attended the University of Miami from 1983 to 1986. He suited up for Miami Hurricanes head football coaches, Howard Schnellenberger and Jimmy Johnson.
Although Brown eventually had a stellar college football career at Miami, his junior high school football coach Tim Jinkens remembered he wanted to quit the program because he grew homesick during his true freshman year in 1983.
Fortunately, Jerome Brown trudged forward and the rest was history.
Brown joined a Hurricanes juggernaut that averaged ten wins per season during his four-year stint in Miami.
Brown was a four-year starter who helped Miami win eleven of twelve games in his true freshman season in 1983.
The fifth-ranked Hurricanes upset the top-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers in the 1983 Orange Bowl, 31-30. Consequently, they claimed their first national title in Schnellenberger’s final season as their head football coach.
Brown developed a passion for fast cars and guns during his college days in Miami. According to Reilly, Brown’s gun collection included a .44 Magnum, Uzi, and a Luger pistol.
Unfortunately, school authorities banned Brown from the on-campus dorm after a child discovered his Luger pistol concealed under a dorm stairwell.
Although the Luger pistol was registered and had no bullets, school regulations prohibited guns on campus grounds.
Brown told Sports Illustrated some three years later he just wanted to show his gun to one of his Hurricanes teammates. When a brawl broke out in an adjacent parking lot, Brown put his gun down and intervened. Unfortunately, he forgot about his weapon once the commotion subsided.
Life in the Fast Lane
When it came to fast cars, Jerome Brown was fascinated with Corvettes. He smashed one of his Corvettes along a Florida freeway in his junior season with the Hurricanes in 1985.
It was an eerie precursor to Brown’s fatal car accident prior to his sixth season with the Philadelphia Eagles some seven years later.
Several months after Brown’s car accident, he earned Hurricanes quarterback Vinny Testaverde’s respect like never before.
After one of the Oklahoma Sooners’ offensive linemen knocked Brown to the ground, he continued crawling until he sacked Oklahoma quarterback Jamelle Holieway.
Brown had 16 tackles, a sack, one forced fumble, and one blocked field goal in the Hurricanes’ 27-14 victory over the Sooners on October 19, 1985.
The Hurricanes averaged nine wins in Brown’s sophomore and junior seasons from 1984 to 1985. Regrettably, they lost in the 1984 Fiesta Bowl and the 1985 Sugar Bowl against the UCLA Bruins and Tennessee Volunteers, respectively.
Brown and the Hurricanes plowed through the opposition with a gaudy 11-1 win-loss record in his senior season in 1986 – Johnson’s third as Miami’s head football coach.
Back to the Fiesta Bowl
Brown gained notoriety for leading a walkout during the 1987 Fiesta Bowl banquet. Brown and his Hurricanes teammates felt the Penn State Nittany Lions players acted inappropriately when they ridiculed their head coach, Jimmy Johnson.
Brown told Sports Illustrated in the summer of 1988 the Nittany Lions hurled racial taunts at Johnson. Rather than start a full-blown melee, Brown and Co. decided to walk out instead.
When University of Miami president Tad Foote grew upset over his football team’s antics in Phoenix, AZ, Brown brought up the idea of the Yale Bulldogs football team looking dapper in suits for every game yet they were always at the bottom of the standings.
“That sure brings the school a lot of money,” Brown told Sports Illustrated in 1988.
An irate Brown tore off his shirt to expose his army fatigues underneath. He then uttered one of the most famous lines in college football history.
“The Japanese never sat down with the Americans before Pearl Harbor,” Brown quipped.
After Brown got his point across, he and his Miami teammates vacated the premises. Their shocked Nittany Lions counterparts looked on in disbelief.
Unfortunately, second-ranked Penn State beat top-ranked Miami in the 1986 Fiesta Bowl, 14-10.
Nevertheless, Jerome Brown became a Consensus All-American defensive lineman following the 1986 NCAA season. He was also a finalist for the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Trophy that year.
He finished his four-year stint in Miami with 183 total tackles, 21.0 sacks, 19.0 tackles for loss, five fumbles, and four fumble recoveries.
Jerome Brown took his act to the City of Brotherly Love where he became one of Buddy Ryan’s pillars on the Philadelphia Eagles’ defensive line.
Pro Football Career
The Philadelphia Eagles made Jerome Brown the ninth overall selection of the 1987 NFL Draft.
The Eagles wanted Brown so badly. They were anxious either the St. Louis Cardinals or Detroit Lions would select him before they did.
When Brown was still on the draft board, Eagles head coach Buddy Ryan and other team executives breathed a sigh of relief. It took merely 68 seconds of their allotted 15 minutes to finalize their selection.
Brown signed a four-year, $1.9 million rookie contract with the Eagles. He resided in a three-story condominium in Cherry Hill, NJ where he took care of four pet piranhas, per Scheiber.
Brown joined an up-and-coming Eagles squad that included quarterback Randall Cunningham, running back Keith Byars, wide receiver Cris Carter, defensive end Reggie White, and defensive tackle Mike Golic.
Some of Brown’s Eagles teammates didn’t welcome him with open arms. His tough-guy facade rubbed them the wrong way during voluntary workouts in the summer of 1987. Before long, Brown clashed with several members of Philly’s offensive line.
Brown discussed the matter with Ryan, one of the greatest defensive minds in pro football history. Ryan told his prized rookie his job took precedence over making friends.
Jerome Brown made an immediate impact in his rookie season. He became one of Eagles head coach Buddy Ryan’s starting defensive tackles in 1987. Brown also became one of the cornerstones of Ryan’s vaunted 46 defense.
Brown finished his rookie season with 50 tackles, 4.0 sacks, one fumble recovery, and two interceptions. The Eagles won seven games and missed the postseason for the sixth straight year.
Fortunately, Brown earned valuable consolation when he earned PFWA All-Rookie Team honors in 1987.
A Need for Speed
Pundits and observers credited Brown’s success in the pro football ranks to his speed. Few defensive tackles could top his speed of 4.78 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
One of those few was eventual Hall of Famer Reggie White, who raced Brown once and beat him with a time of 4.69 seconds, per Sports Illustrated.
Although White emerged victorious, he came away impressed with Brown’s speed.
The two Eagles defensive linemen grew close during their time together in the City of Brotherly Love from 1987 to 1991. In fact, Brown invited White to become a regular guest instructor at his annual youth football camps in Brooksville, FL.
Reilly described Jerome Brown as a larger-than-life personality who was equal parts gregarious, intense, and generous.
Brown was one of the most passionate Eagles of his era. He habitually stomped and strutted on the football field. He also loved hoisting his helmet after a big play or an Eagles victory.
Speaking Up and Speaking Out
Jerome Brown also wasn’t afraid to speak his mind. In his second pro football season in 1988, Brown pulled up in his Bronco jeep at a KKK rally, turned up the volume of his radio to eardrum-shattering levels, and held up a sign that said, “GO AWAY KKK.”
According to Sports Illustrated, six men wearing white robes and hoods organized the rally at a local courtyard. Approximately 150 people who detested the KKK mocked the leader and around 50 of the group’s supporters.
The 23-year-old Brown never said a word. He just smiled and turned his car radio volume full blast and showed the Klansmen his sign.
Since none of the attendees could hear the KKK speakers anymore, they eventually dispersed and went home, per Sports Illustrated.
Brown’s ploy worked beautifully. Had some of the Klansmen’s supporters heard what they were saying, racial tensions would have ensued.
Not only did Jerome Brown foil the plans of the Klansmen, but he also left them befuddled.
“One of them looked like an ant compared to Jerome; he was totally dismayed,” Brooksville, FL police officer Terry Chapman told Schelber in the summer of 1988. “You could see them all scratching their heads, standing around not knowing what to do next.”
Protecting the Peace
For his part, the 6’2″, 292-lb. Brown told Sports Illustrated the people of Brooksville, FL had been getting along just fine for years. He said the city didn’t need those kinds of issues. Although he played football in a city around 1,200 miles away, he never forgot his roots.
It turned out Chapman and Co. approached the gargantuan Brown, a popular figure in the local black community, to help control the crowd at the KKK rally in the summer of 1988.
Brown didn’t have any second thoughts. He initially rounded up several of his Hernando Leopards’ teammates, black and white, for the task at hand. However, he eventually decided the stereo assault would become his primary tactic against the KKK.
Despite Brown’s successful tactic, he didn’t get away unscathed. One KKK supporter hurled insults at him, saying his mother was on welfare. Brown simply kept his composure and walked away.
Brown had a reputation as a peacemaker. He got into a nightclub scuffle after his second season with the Philadelphia Eagles. He pushed his female cousin out of the way when the fracas escalated. One of the instigators smashed a soda bottle on Brown’s shoulder, per Sports Illustrated.
Whenever Brown was in Brooksville, FL, he feasted on his mother Annie’s barbecued ribs and sweet potato pie. He also helped his dad Willie, a mechanic, fix truck engines in the shade of their family residence.
Brown’s popularity reached stratospheric proportions when he played for the Eagles. He couldn’t walk a block without somebody in town recognizing him.
Brown also bought 10 acres of land in Brooksville, FL. His contractors built his three-bedroom house built right next to his parents’ four-bedroom abode on that property, per Scheiber.
When Jerome Brown entered his third NFL season in the spring of 1989, he met Miami Hurricanes defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy in an awkward fashion.
At the time, college football pundits hailed Kennedy as Brown’s second coming. One day, Brown burst through the Hurricanes’ weight room and started looking for the upstart who resembled his game.
Brown sized up Kennedy, smiled from ear to ear, wrapped his arms around Kennedy, and told his newfound protege to come with him.
Jerome Brown taught Kennedy, a senior defensive tackle, the nuances of playing defensive line in the collegiate ranks. He taught Kennedy how to make the proper reads, use his hands properly, and exploit double teams.
Cortez Kennedy eventually became a Consensus All-American with the Hurricanes and an eight-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman with the Seattle Seahawks.
It didn’t stop there. Brown and Kennedy forged a tight friendship for the next three years. Brown’s mother Annie even referred to Kennedy as her son’s twin brother.
Cortez Kennedy usually wore No. 96.
But after his best friend Jerome Brown (bottom left) died in a car accident, Kennedy spent the 1992 season wearing No. 99 as a tribute to Brown. pic.twitter.com/Hu9ADWgWUl
— NFL Throwback (@nflthrowback) May 30, 2019
Brown’s lifelong fascination with cars also rubbed off on Kennedy. When the former bought a BMW and Corvette, the latter followed suit.
Brown and Kennedy reached out to each other on Monday evenings during football season and compared each other’s stats. They made their long-distance calls from Seattle to Philadelphia a weekly habit.
Jerome Brown enjoyed his best two-year stretch in the National Football League from 1990 to 1991. He had 10.0 sacks and seven fumble recoveries during that two-year stretch.
To nobody’s surprise, Brown became a First-Team All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection in his final two years in the pro football ranks.
According to CBS Sports Philadelphia’s Ray Didinger, Brown played with a renewed sense of passion in the 1991 NFL season. He was still fuming over Eagles head coach Buddy Ryan’s dismissal several months earlier.
Brown shed 30 pounds, put in the work, and became one of pro football’s elite defensive linemen in 1991.
The Eagles averaged ten wins per season at the turn of the 1990s decade. They never made it past the NFC Wild Card Round from 1990 to 1991.
Brown’s generosity knew no bounds. He hired two bus drivers to transport 70 kids from his hometown of Brooksville, FL to Tampa Bay for a football clinic prior to Super Bowl XXX between the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills.
He made the gesture at the pinnacle of his short yet memorable NFL career.
Regrettably, Jerome Brown’s life was tragically cut short just as he was hitting his stride with the Philadelphia Eagles in the early 1990s.
Jerome Brown’s Tragic and Untimely Death
Jerome Brown died in a tragic car accident in Brooksville, FL on June 25, 1992. He was 27 years old.
Brown’s 12-year-old nephew Augusta Wesley “Gus” Brown was with him on that heartbreaking Thursday afternoon. He, too, passed away.
Brown and his nephew dropped by a local Register Chevrolet to pick up the 1973 Chevy the shop restored for him. Brooksville, FL law enforcement officials told Reilly they believe Brown was driving too fast in wet and slippery conditions after he and his nephew left the dealership.
When the car skidded, Brown tried to steer the car back onto the road but he ran into a dirt mound. As a result, the car went airborne, flipped, and smashed into a power pole. Both uncle and nephew were killed on impact.
Brown and his close friend, Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy, were supposed to meet in Miami, FL for a cruise on June 26, 1992.
Regrettably, their long-awaited trip never materialized.
Brown’s Eagles teammate and future ESPN radio host Mike Golic, Sr. thought Jerome’s fast lifestyle ultimately cost him his life.
“He lived fast and he drove fast,” Golic Sr. told Sports Illustrated in the summer of 1992. “For a while, he seemed to live on edge, but I thought he had turned it around.”
Brown’s passing coincided with the Rev. Billy Graham’s event at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, PA on June 25, 1992.
Brown’s friend, Eagles teammate and ordained minister Reggie White, was one of the speakers. He found out about Brown’s tragic car accident mere moments before he took the stage.
White announced Brown’s death to the thousands in attendance. He also spoke highly of his fallen teammate.
“All the stuff you heard about Jerome Brown, and the stories about him, this man was one of the greatest people I ever met and knew in my life,” White said (via PhillyVoice.com).
Brown’s death also comes almost two months after that of his friend and Indianapolis Colts second-year defensive lineman, Shane Curry. A 15-year-old gunman shot and killed Curry outside a Cincinnati, OH nightclub after an argument over a blocked parking slot on May 4, 1992.
Curry entered the Miami Hurricanes football program in Brown’s rookie year with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1987.
The Eagles retired Jerome Brown’s No 99 jersey in the 1992 NFL season. He became a member of the Philadelphia Eagles Hall of Fame four years later.
Brown is also a member of the Philadelphia Eagles 75th Anniversary Team.
The University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame inducted Jerome Brown in 1997.
Brown’s junior high school football coach Tim Jenkins helped launch the Jerome Brown Youth Foundation in 1995. The organization helps provide college scholarships to deserving high school students every year.
Several Philadelphia Eagles alumni help establish the Jerome Brown Community Center—a popular recreational venue for the youth—in 2000.