Underdog Story: Colts Safety Sergio Brown Makes Most of Opportunity
Placed in the starting lineup when LaRon Landry was suspended, the Notre Dame alum has been a pleasant surprise. And even though Landry is now back with the team, it doesn’t look like Brown is going anywhere.
For the first four games of the 2014 NFL season, the Indianapolis Colts’ Sergio Brown was a backup behind safety LaRon Landry, a hard-hitting, high-priced free agent and former Pro Bowler. Brown, a Notre Dame alum, was undrafted out of college and unceremoniously cut by his previous team, the New England Patriots, before the start of the 2012 regular season. When the Colts picked him up, Brown was happy just to have a job and make a contribution playing special teams.
Then came September 29, when Landry was suspended four games for a failed drug test. Brown felt bad for his teammate. But he also recognized the opportunity in front of him.
He would get the start versus the Baltimore Ravens on October 5.
Brown practiced with the first-team defense all week, but reality didn’t sink in until game time. “I didn’t really even worry about it too much,” he says. “I was just like, ‘I’ll wait ’til the time comes,’ and then once I’m out there starting, it was like, ‘Oh, my God. Finally.’”
Brown had a great game, recording three tackles, deflecting a pass, and sacking Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco on a fourth-down play.
“The reason I went to Notre Dame was because of my father and the things that he did. But that’s the person he was in my life.”
The day was also meaningful because it marked the 12th anniversary of his father’s death. “It was just very easing,” says Brown. “It gave me peace of mind, peace of everything, because he was my biggest supporter in athletics my whole life. It was motivation. It was just, like, no worries for me. It was a big burden off. All the stress and anxiety that I did have going into that game—when it finally happened, I put the two dots together. It was like a big exhale moment: ‘Let’s go do this.’”
Brown has played consistently since that first start, averaging just over two tackles and 1.5 pass deflections per game. On November 3, before the team’s bye week, he got to showcase his talent on a national stage, logging two deflected passes in the Colts’ 40–24 Monday-night win versus the New York Giants.
Landry was reactivated after the Giants game. But Brown’s performance in Landry’s absence probably helps explain why the Colts’ coaching staff has been in no apparent hurry to insert Landry back into the starting lineup: Head coach Chuck Pagano indicated this week that when the defense takes the field Sunday against the Patriots, Brown will get the nod—and a chance to show his former team why they shouldn’t have cut him.
Brown credits his father, Mario Brown, with laying the foundation for his surprising success with the Colts. It was Mario who first encouraged Sergio to pick up football. And he became a forceful advocate for his son early on, which sometimes got him into trouble. When Mario got kicked out of Sergio’s Pop Warner football games, the father would resort to knocking on neighbors’ doors and asking them if he could watch the game from their backyard, where he would resume yelling out his support and encouragement. Mario was also a fixture in the local community and would push Sergio and other young people to get good grades and do their best, playing the role of father figure to others besides his son.
Mario later talked his way into the office of then–Notre Dame head coach Tyrone Willingham’s office while Sergio’s brother, Nick, was playing in a summer basketball tournament there. He told Willingham that Sergio, though still years away from attending college, was going to play football at Notre Dame.
Sergio wasn’t even thinking much about football at the time, as basketball was his favorite sport; he played both at Proviso East High School in Maywood, Illinois, 12 miles west of Chicago. Sergio thought Mario Brown’s encounter with Willingham was just his dad being himself, seeking out the person on campus best able to help his son and then selling him.
“That story stuck into me, and when Notre Dame offered me (a scholarship), it was a no-brainer to go there,” says Sergio. “That’s the reason why I went to Notre Dame. It was because of my father and the things that he did. But that’s the person he was in my life.”
Brown played at Notre Dame from 2006 to 2009, handling special-teams duties during his first two years and then becoming a fixture at free safety his final two seasons. The Patriots signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2010 but cut him after two seasons. Within two hours, Pagano called and told Brown he was coming to the Colts, catching him and his agent off-guard.
“I just really want to play football. The love and the joy I get out of it eats me up on the inside.”
When Brown arrived, he was struck by the contrast in cultures. New England was more structured and rigid, and in Indianapolis there was a balance of being looser while still treating the game like a job. The difference was especially noticeable when he encountered general manager Ryan Grigson, who called Brown a “werewolf” during their meeting, a label he repeated when the two sat down with Coach Pagano.
“I still don’t know what a werewolf is,” says Brown, laughing. “He walks me to Coach P’s office, calling me a werewolf again, and then Coach P got all of this energy, and I’m like, ‘This is night and day from New England.’”
One of the things Brown likes about Indianapolis is how friendly everyone in the organization is, from top to bottom. He says all of the defensive backs are friends, and everyone hangs out with each other. For him, being a member of the Colts doesn’t even feel like a job.
“It’s more of a family environment than a work environment from the top down,” Brown says. “I could sit and have a 15-minute conversation with DeWitt Jackson, the organization’s head chef. That’s how much of a family the organization is, and how much we are together. I would probably call him one of my favorite people in the whole organization. Everyone’s positive, got good energy. It’s a great work environment.”
On the field, Brown says he is motivated by a “chip on the shoulder” mentality, which goes back to his days at Notre Dame and New England, where he felt he had to prove himself to everybody.
“I just really want to play football,” he says. “The love and the joy I get out of it eats me up on the inside.”
Corey Cooper has been friends with Glenn Rivers so long, he knew the Clippers coach before he was “Doc.””We actually called him ‘Moonie,’ ” Cooper recalled. “His dad was ‘Full Moon,’ his brother was ‘Half Moon’ and he was ‘Quarter Moon.’ ”
They grew up across the street from one another in Maywood, bonding over sports. “Corey has been my best friend since the second grade,” Rivers said by telephone.
He has learned a lot of lessons about being patient, handling injuries, waiting your turn. You go to Nebraska, there will be a lot of people in front of you. When Cooper had a son — also named Corey — on July 2, 1992, Rivers became his godfather.
Both Coopers will be at Ryan Field on Saturday for the Nebraska-Northwestern game. Corey Jr., a 6-foot-1, 215-pound safety, will make his 24th start for the Cornhuskers.”A very physical player,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said.
Corey Sr. will gather with relatives and friends around 11 a.m., more than seven hours before kickoff. He was hoping to accumulate 50 tickets if enough of Corey’s teammates gave their four freebies to the fifth-year senior from Proviso East. “We’ll all be wearing red,” the elder Cooper promised.
Corey Sr. played safety for Purdue, lettering in 1983 and ’84. Rivers said there was a never a doubt the son would follow in his dad’s footsteps. “Corey said: ‘He’s a football player. It’s in him,’ ” Rivers said. Northwestern recruited Cooper, though not as intently as it did Nebraska receiver Jordan Westerkamp, the Montini product who Fitzgerald said “would have looked awesome in purple.”
Asked if he thought he had a chance to reel in Westerkamp, Fitzgerald replied, “I thought we had a great shot until he went out to their spring game and committed.”
A visit to Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb., also mesmerized Cooper. “Coming in, Coop was as good a receiver as defensive back,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. “We pegged him as a DB and thought he could develop into what he has — a heck of a player, a good leader and a tremendous kid. It’s obvious he was brought up the right way by a blue-collar, hardworking family that has their principles in place.”
Corey Sr. has been a police officer in Maywood since 1990. He used to investigate homicides, but now he’s a sergeant and had a considerably less dangerous task early in the week — providing security during filming of the NBC show “Chicago Fire.” “They just had a helicopter crash scene,” he said. “It was real neat the way they did it.” Rivers, who got his famous nickname from Rick Majerus while at Marquette, watched “Little Corey” play in a 2011 game in Lincoln. It happened to be the November day when Northwestern stunned the Huskers. “After the game they grabbed me and said, ‘Bo wants to say Hi,’ ” Rivers recalled. “I said, ‘That’s OK; I’m good.’ Coaches (in all sports) are one step above insane.” Rivers roots for his godson every chance he gets.
“He has learned a lot of lessons about being patient, handling injuries, waiting your turn,” Rivers said. “You go to Nebraska, there will be a lot of people in front of you.” And a lot of people at every game — home and away. Corey Sr. never misses one, no matter where it’s played. “I’m watching every step,” he said.
(permission has been granted to reprint this article by Teddy Greenstein, Chicago Tribune)
Colts’ Sergio Brown Delivers On Anniversary of His Father’s Death
It took a text message from his mother for him to pause, remember and shake his head in disbelief.
“12 years to the day,” she wrote.
How appropriate, Brown marveled. How fitting.
So in the waning moments before Sunday’s kickoff, Brown pulled aside his head coach, Chuck Pagano, with a request. It was the team’s first game in October – the NFL’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month – and, by chance, the 12-year-anniversary of Brown losing his father to cancer. He wanted a word with the team.
Pagano, a cancer survivor himself, told him to go right ahead.
“He spoke from the heart,” cornerback Greg Toler said. “You could tell how much of a big deal it was to him.”
Then Brown went out and had one of the finest days of his career, filling in admirably for suspended free safety LaRon Landry. Brown made three tackles, sacked Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco on a critical fourth-down blitz deep in Indianapolis territory, and added a pass deflection.
He was everywhere. He was a difference-maker.
“Your dad would have been proud of you,” Myrtle Brown told her son after the game.
Indeed, he would have. Mario Brown – a notable athlete himself, the first African-American to ever play college basketball at Texas A&M – played an enormous role in his son’s life. And, his son says, the life of everyone in the neighborhood. He was the dad that knew every kid on the block, the one who’d teach them the proper jump shot and push them to earn better grades in school.
That’s why Sunday meant so much to Sergio. The fifth day of October is never easy.
Mario Brown’s lung cancer started slowly before spreading swiftly. They lost him in 2002. Sergio was a freshman in high school.
“Once the cancer reached the bone marrow, it was over,” he remembers.
He carried his father’s guidance with him through the rest of his high school career at Proviso East outside Chicago. And through four years at Notre Dame. And as an undrafted free agent bouncing from practice squads to special teams units to secondaries in New England and Indianapolis.
He’d started three games for the Patriots during the 2011 season, but in his two-plus years in Indianapolis he was primarily a special teams star. That was until Landry was popped last week for using performance-enhancing drugs. He’d sit for four games.
Suddenly, Brown had his shot with the Colts.
And of all the days for it to arrive, it came Sunday, 12 years to the day after he lost his father. So entrenched in the Ravens last week, it never hit him.
“Once my mom reminded me, it just felt like it was right,” Brown said. “Honestly, the more I thought about it, the more it gave me peace of mind. It made me feel like everything was going to be OK. It let me go out there and be free.”
He was a critical cog in a defense that put together its most impressive 60-minute performance of the season. Baltimore, seven days after lighting up a stout Carolina defense for 38 points, never got rolling.
“He’s been working extremely hard, waiting for this day to come,” Pagano said. “He came out and took advantage of that opportunity.”
“He was playing with another spirit out there,” Toler said. “Yesterday, you could just see it in his eyes. He had a lot he wanted to show the world.”
“It was a great day for everybody,” Pagano added, “and especially for No. 38.”
Myrtle Brown was right. Dad would’ve been proud.
Call Star reporter Zak Keefer at (317) 444-6134 and follow him on Twitter: @zkeefer.