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Goober Pyle

OT - Brandon Browner: From the ‘Legion of Boom’ to inmate No. BL7078

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https://theathletic.com/1806911/2020/05/14/brandon-browner-from-the-legion-of-boom-to-inmate-no-bl707/

 

Long read, but good...

 

Kam Chancellor had the microphone first.

“L.O.B., baby,” he announced, “we’re gonna sing this song for y’all.”

As Brandon Browner settled beside him, a shirtless Earl Thomas grabbed the mic next. They turned toward Richard Sherman, the man of the hour, and began to croon.

“Happy birthday to youuu.”

Sherman laughed, then pantomimed choir director hand signals as they continued.

“Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to 2-5. Happy birthday to youuu.”

It was the final week of March 2018. Sherman had recently signed with the rival 49ers after being cut by the Seahawks. Chancellor was battling a neck injury that would end his football career that summer. Thomas was in a contract dispute that would ultimately end his Seattle tenure.

Then there was Browner, the fourth member of the original “Legion of Boom” secondary who was floundering in his post-football life.

Browner was in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, simultaneously celebrating Sherman’s 30th birthday and his wedding before a group of 180 friends and family, including nearly half of the starters from the Seahawks’ Super Bowl 48 championship roster. The weather was sunny and relaxing, perfect for the occasion. The former teammates reminisced about their playing days over drinks by the pool or while lounging at the beach.

The day of the wedding was one to remember. The guys hung out in Sherman’s room, holding court in a wide-ranging discussion — religion, marriage, children. It was a deeper dive into one another’s lives than they were used to; Sherman calls it one of the best nights of his life.

In his five-year NFL career, Browner made the Pro Bowl, won Super Bowl rings under Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick and was named a defensive captain in his lone season with the Saints, but his closest friends were still his LOB co-founders. During a golf cart ride from the beach to the hotel, Browner turned to defensive end Cliff Avril and said, “I needed this, man.”

What he needed, even if Browner couldn’t articulate it, was football. He needed the game to contain the aggression and desperation that characterized him as a player. He also needed to be back with his boys, to be part of a team.

“I think a lot of us were feeling like that,” Avril said. “That camaraderie, feeling like you’re back in the locker room again.”

But by that week in March 2018, the violence that defined Browner’s career had escaped the confines of football. He already had been arrested for drug possession and for threatening his girlfriend, the mother of two of his children. In the months that followed, he would be arrested twice more, the second time for a horrific crime: He broke into his girlfriend’s home, refused to let her leave, then attempted to smother her in the carpet.

It was summer 2011, and Browner sat alone in the cafeteria at the Seahawks’ practice facility, a view of Lake Washington outside the floor-to-ceiling windows. Seattle’s offseason program was just days old, and players were still in the process of completing physicals, largely unfamiliar with one another. As a 27-year-old first-year cornerback from the CFL, Browner was especially unknown.

But early in camp, Browner was greeted at lunch by another off-the-radar player, a late-round draft pick from Stanford who, like Browner, grew up in the Los Angeles area. “You ain’t about to sit by yourself,” Richard Sherman said.

It took a few days, but Browner began to open up to his new teammate.

“Every time we talk about it, he’s like, ‘Man, I was trying to get back in the league! I’m ready to eat off anybody’s plate,'” Sherman told The Athletic. “I’m like, ‘BB, everybody is ready to eat off anybody’s plate at that point; that don’t mean you sit by your **** self.'”

Browner stayed late after practice and asked questions in meetings — “You could sense the desperation in some of it,” Sherman said — but he knew what his calling card was as a player and encouraged the 23-year-old rookie to follow his example.

“They brought us in here to put our mother****ing hands on people,” he told Sherman, “so put your hands on people.”

Browner grew up with 15 brothers and sisters in Pacoima, Calif., a neighborhood in the northern San Fernando Valley notorious for gang activity. Many of his family members were, according to people in the know, “in the life.” At one point, Browner said, his dad, little brother, sister, cousin and stepdad were all in prison.

Browner’s mother, Brenda Fisher, enrolled him at Monroe High about 20 minutes away in North Hills, a “safer” destination at the time. She wanted her son around people who would care for him — people like Chris Richards. A longtime coach who was involved in Browner’s life since he was a child, Richards knew how important football could be for Browner.

“I always told him he was the chosen one for his family,” Richards said.

Browner developed into a big, fast, aggressive player who starred at wide receiver and cornerback and attracted attention from Pac-10 powers, but he could also lash out without warning if he felt like his chances of success were endangered. “People handle fear differently,” Richards said. “He only knows one way, just like he only knows one way to play the game. If you look at Brandon, his aggression on the field was no different than his aggression off the field.

“When you’re hanging out with Brandon and he’s being Brandon, the clown, the joker, the total opposite. But it didn’t take much to push him to that next level because without football (he thought), ‘Where am I at? Who am I? Who is going to embrace me?'”

Browner ended up at Oregon State, where the 6-foot-4, 194-pounder established himself as the team’s most physical defensive back — and as a player who would occasionally cross the line. As a true freshman, Browner had to sit out several plays following a short altercation with a receiver. It then took several players to separate Browner and backup center Jason Fyda when they scrapped after a running play.

“I just like to bang,” Browner once said.

“If you let him, he would body-slam everybody,” said Nigel Burton, Browner’s defensive backs coach at OSU. “He was one of the most competitive people I’ve ever been around. You go to a practice and he’s trying to rip people’s heads off.”

Burton decided to build his secondary around that energy, with Browner — who had been named the 2003 Pac-10 freshman of the year — at the forefront. Burton stayed on top of Browner, trying to hold him accountable in the classroom. Sometimes Browner would do his homework in Burton’s office. The coach called Browner one of the “nicest mean guys I know,” but looking back, Burton thinks he might have been too tough on him.

“It was out of love,” Burton said. “I just wanted him to succeed and use the game as a tool and not be engulfed in it.”

Their relationship soured when Browner decided to leave Oregon State and enter the NFL Draft after his redshirt sophomore season in 2004. (Browner later said he didn’t believe he’d academically qualify to play as a junior.) Oregon State coach Mike Riley disagreed with the decision. Burton did, too. And just like that, his coaches were standing in the way of his success. “I think he took that as I didn’t believe in him,” Burton said, but that wasn’t the case. The two didn’t talk for years.

Browner was projected by some to go in the first few rounds of the 2005 draft, but he went undrafted because of a poor combine performance and questions about his on-field discipline and off-field maturity. Disappointed and motivated, Browner signed with the Denver Broncos, but he suffered a broken arm in training camp and spent his rookie season in injured reserve. He failed a drug test and was released the following summer.

Unemployed and back in Pacoima, Browner spent his days with Richards’ son Rashaad. Both of their girlfriends were pregnant, and Browner picked up Richards every morning to go work out. “Outside of football, we were lost,” said Rashaad, so the pair joined a local flag football league.

Browner’s first son was born in January 2007. He began living off unemployment checks and looking into security jobs in Hollywood.

But in the spring, general manager Jim Barker of the Canadian Football League’s Calgary Stampeders called, looking for a big, physical corner.

During Browner’s first workout with his new team, he wasn’t in good enough shape to keep up. “I couldn’t complete the gassers,” Browner later said. “I was down on the ground, thinking, ‘Man, I’m about to get cut again.'”

But even as he worked on his conditioning, his size and play stood out. He appeared in 17 games that first season, finished second on the team with 71 total tackles, forced four fumbles and was in the conversation for the CFL’s rookie of the year.

“It was a drive about the cat,” said Stampeders teammate Calvin Bannister. “The way he played, you knew he was playing for his family.”

But Browner’s family was falling apart. The relationship with the mother of his first child deteriorated while he was in Calgary. He had hopes of marriage, buying a home, getting a dog, living out the American dream far away from California. Home, Browner said, is “trouble for me.” Without football, he knew he’d be working a security job in Hollywood, asking what-ifs and “telling stories to my son about how great I was.”

Browner was named an All-Star in his last three seasons with Calgary, but he struggled to control his aggression. He’d frequently rumble with his road roommate, Dwight Anderson. He had near-scuffles with his offensive teammates and a penchant for drawing penalties.

Browner nearly fought defensive coordinator Chris Jones in 2010 when Jones tried to move Browner to the slot to lock down Saskatchewan receiver Andy Fantuz, who had burned Calgary for 255 yards in their previous meeting. Browner couldn’t maul opponents as a slot defender and got his *** whipped in practice. His coaches were once again standing in the way of his success.

“I’m an All-CFL corner; you got me playing in the slot,” he told Jones, who responded to Browner with two questions: “Are you scared to play in the slot? Are you scared to match up on Fantuz?” Pride trumped fear, and Browner held Fantuz to zero catches in the game.

In 2008, Browner had 75 tackles and three interceptions and the Stampeders won the Grey Cup. After the game, the team celebrated at Moose McGuire’s, a local pub. In the midst of the celebration, the 5-foot-8 Jones stood on a step so he could look his star corner in the face. Browner had tears in his eyes.

Jones, now in the NFL as a member of the Browns’ staff, recently recalled the moment and felt chills while sitting in his truck in Cleveland. “He was so thankful,” Jones said. “It was almost like it validated him as a person, to follow through with something and be able to finish and complete something. It was just good to be able to be involved with something like that with someone who feels hollow, and you fill in that little blank.”

In January 2011, Browner signed a three-year, $1.29 million contract with the Seahawks, quite the raise for a guy who once said he was “up there in Canada making 50 grand.” But the contract didn’t include any guaranteed money, and since owners and players were about to start a 132-day lockout, Browner went months without a paycheck.

His family was looking to him as a provider — his second son was born in August 2010 — and Browner was stressed. “I was loooow,” he recalled during a radio interview that season. “I was down to my last.”

When he finally got on the field, he put his hands on people. Now listed at 220 pounds, Browner’s aggression and physicality made him an ideal fit for Carroll’s defense.

“He’s out there playing Cover 3, pressing dudes,” recalled linebacker K.J. Wright, another rookie that season. “Dudes couldn’t really get off his press.”

It wasn’t much of a surprise that Browner led the NFL in penalties in his first season in Seattle. It was slightly more surprising that he also led the league in passes defensed (23) and interception touchdowns (2) and was named a Pro Bowl alternate.

Browner brought the “boom” whenever he had a chance, and to whom it was delivered wasn’t a concern. In 2012 training camp, he bodied Terrell Owens and drove the receiver to the ground in a one-on-one drill. During a 2012 game against the Patriots, he targeted Wes Welker in the flat and flattened the smaller receiver to force an incompletion.

“I’m like, ‘Dog, cornerbacks are not supposed to do that,'” Avril said.

During the infamous Fail Mary game against Green Bay, Browner dropped Greg Jennings mid-route with a blindside hit. As the receiver rose to his feet, Browner squared up to fight, withstood Jennings’ rush and slammed him into the ground. After the two were separated, Browner emerged, flexing his muscles.

“He just manhandled him,” Wright said.

By the end of the 2012 season, the LOB’s familial bond had formed. That summer, Thomas, Chancellor, Sherman and Browner took turns visiting one another’s hometowns: Thomas brought them out to little Orange, Texas, near the Louisiana border; Chancellor hosted a cookout in Norfolk, Va.; Sherman had everyone over in Compton; and Browner hosted them in the San Fernando Valley. Browner joined his teammates on a vacation to Miami, Fla., where they strolled up and down Ocean Drive, plotting for the season and getting to know one another even better.

“He’s a very unique man who has been through a lot of trauma throughout his life,” Sherman said. “(He’s) been put in a lot of holes that most people never dig themselves out of.”

Still, there were setbacks.

In November 2012, just as the team was starting its ascent to the NFL’s elite, Browner and Sherman were suspended for failed drug tests, causing the former to miss four regular-season games. (Sherman successfully appealed his suspension.) In 2013, Browner was hit with another drug suspension and missed the final three months as the Seahawks marched to the Super Bowl.

While Sherman, Thomas and Chancellor became household names, Browner was quietly bothered by the notion he was the “fourth” member of the Legion of Boom, and being excluded from the brotherhood’s biggest games of the season — including Seattle’s 43-8 blowout of Denver in Super Bowl 48 — didn’t help. At the White House in May 2014, Browner wore a black suit with a purple-and-gold tie and positioned himself proudly behind then-President Barack Obama at the podium. He stood two rows up, just behind receiver Doug Baldwin and Chancellor.

“You may have heard about the Legion of Boom,” Obama said. “Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Byron Maxwell, who combined to form the best secondary in football.”

One year later, Browner would get another shot at a championship.

Prior to Super Bowl 49, Browner, then with New England, told ESPN’s Josina Anderson he would instruct his Patriots teammates to attack Sherman’s injured elbow and Thomas’ injured shoulder.

“Try to break it if you can,” Browner said. “You’re going to be my best friend after the game, but at the end of the day, I know you want that Super Bowl just as bad as I do.”

Sherman understood what Browner meant and responded to his former teammate via text: “Lol.”

Before the game’s decisive play, with Seattle facing second-and-goal from the 1-yard line with 26 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Browner recognized what was coming and positioned himself behind teammate Malcolm Butler to thwart the upcoming pick play. At the snap, Browner practiced what he preached — put your hands on people — jamming receiver Jermaine Kearse at the line of scrimmage and clearing the path for Butler’s game-clinching interception.

Moments after the pick, he ran over to Sherman. The pair were photographed on the field, their faces pressed against each other in what looked like a heated exchange. But when asked what he said to his former teammate, Browner answered, “I love you, boy.”

Browner returned to Pacoima and held free summer camps for children in the neighborhood. Chancellor and Sherman were special guests. He began the process of starting up a youth football league.

In 2014, Browner bought a 3,668-square-foot home in Pomona, about an hour east of where he grew up. In the spring of 2016, one year after signing a three-year, $15 million deal with New Orleans, he bought his mother a house. “It took me a while, but I accomplished goal No. 1 from day one,” he announced. Shortly after, his third child, a daughter, was born. Browner spent 2015 with the Saints, where he was voted a defensive captain, but was released following the season. He attempted a comeback with the Seahawks that offseason but was among the team’s final cuts.

By the start of the 2016 season, he was out of football.

Every player’s career has to end; rarely is the transition easy. For Browner, it had perhaps a higher degree of difficulty. Several former Seahawks made their homes in the Seattle area, where they formed a support system for one another. But Browner headed back to California, where relationships with his family were strained.

“He was trying to find himself, but he just lacked the family,” Sherman said. “We’re family. We watch out for each other, and he didn’t have that anymore.”

“Nobody can relate to what you’re going through with the transition — or the denial — of your career being over with,” Avril said. “Trying to fit into the real world, trying to find who you are outside of football. It’s just a wide range of different thoughts guys struggle with because they’ve been doing this their whole life. If you can find that community of people who have gone through that … it allows you to be able to vent, and people understand what you’re going through.”

But back home, Browner spiraled. He was arrested for cocaine possession in May 2017. Four months later, he was arrested again. His girlfriend sought a restraining order against him, alleging he had assaulted her — leaving her with black eyes, a broken tailbone and a busted eardrum — and threatened to kill her. In June 2018, Browner was sentenced to three years’ probation and served two days in jail after a no-contest plea to battery and child endangerment. He was also ordered to take a 52-week domestic violence treatment program.

But just weeks later, police responded to reports of a man attempting to enter Browner’s girlfriend’s home in La Verne, Calif., through a locked window. Police say Browner stole her $20,000 Rolex watch, threatened to kill her, prevented her from leaving the house and attempted to smother her. Browner left the home before the police arrived, but later that day, he was arrested in nearby Azusa. He was charged with attempted murder, robbery, burglary, false imprisonment and child endangerment.

The next day, Browner’s arrest was national news. His teammates were shocked.

He pleaded no contest to attempted murder and child endangerment and in December 2018 and was sentenced to eight years in prison. A judge denied Browner’s attempt to have the decision vacated in February. On March 9, he was sent to Wasco State Prison, where he is inmate No. BL7078.

Browner’s aggression and desperation had helped him become a key player in one of the NFL’s most iconic position groups. He won a Super Bowl and made millions. His family is broken. He has three young children. He is eligible for parole in 2024.

 

 

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D@mn Browner, I had no idea.

 

People being smart has been a dying breed more and more so in recent years.

 

Also, it's sad to see someone who made it big just flush it all down the drain for not using their head and letting emotions get the best of them.

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