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  • Scott Carter

Lomas Brown Gets His Place Among All-Time Greats

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – When a delivery vehicle pulled into his driveway in suburban Detroit on Tuesday morning, Lomas Brown had no idea how the tone of his day was about to change. He took the package from the deliverywoman and assumed it was for his son. They have the same name. "I wasn't going to open the box,'' Brown said. Upon further inspection, he realized the package was not intended for Lomas Brown III, but rather Lomas Brown Jr. Hey, that's him. Inside, Brown found a commemorative football and a letter from the National Football Foundation congratulating him on being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. A phone call soon followed. Several hours later, the 56-year-old Brown's voice, one he uses in his job as the radio analyst of the Detroit Lions, remained inflected with joy as he discussed his place among the game's all-time greats. Brown's career started at Miami Springs High in the late 1970s when the school's principal noticed the hulking young man walking around campus and asked if he planned to play sports. Soon, he was on the football team and starring on the defensive and offensive lines. Eventually, Brown came to Florida where he starred for the Gators from 1981-84. More than 35 years since his final game, a strong case can be made that Brown is the great offensive lineman in school history. The only surprise to some hearing about Brown's induction into the College Football Hall of Fame is the fact he wasn't already a member. "Good things come to those who wait,'' Brown said Tuesday. "It was well worth the wait." In Brown's days at Florida, he was described as a man-child and gentle giant. He was polite and soft-spoken, not exactly traits that forecast greatness on the line of scrimmage. But at 6-foot-5 and 280 pounds, Brown had all the physical gifts to become a star. Here is how the late Charley Pell described him in 1983 during Brown's junior season: "When we think about the potential of Lomas Brown, he must be projected as the type of player who one day could be looking back at a professional career where he's been an All-Pro for a decade or so,'' Pell told the Miami News. "He's that good."

Pell knew what he had. Brown became a consensus All-American as a senior in 1984 and the sixth overall pick of the Lions in the 1985 NFL draft. Brown then carved out an 18-year NFL career that ended with a Super Bowl ring in 2002 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Brown made the NFL All-Pro team seven consecutive times during the 1990s. Brown's father, Lomas Brown Sr., once told the Miami Herald he never expected his mild-mannered son to play football. On Tuesday, that son reflected back on his unlikely journey and how coming to Florida helped him reach his full potential. "Those long, hot, hard practices we had under Coach Charley Pell,'' Brown said. "He was a guy who was under Bear Bryant, and I don't know if a lot of the young kids have ever seen that movie 'The Junction Boys,' but if they ever watch that movie, that's kind of what we went through as a team. He was tough and man, he got the most out of you. But it was well worth it." As it turned out, Brown's father played a large role in him coming to Florida. Lomas Brown Sr. suffered a heart attack the night of Brown's final high school game in 1980. Committed to the University of Pittsburgh, Brown changed his college plans and signed with the Gators. "Right then, I decided to stay closer. I wanted to stay closer to home because of his health,'' Brown said Tuesday. "I had to leave Miami because I started to run with the wrong group of kids in Miami, and I knew if I stayed down in Miami I would get myself in trouble. When the University of Florida came calling, I figured that was a great spot. It was five hours from home. It was far enough from home to keep the trouble makers away from me, but it was close enough that if I had to get home, I could get there." Brown got on the field in his first game, the 1981 season opener against Miami at the Orange Bowl not far from where he grew up, and blossomed into the star for an offensive line that became dubbed as "The Great Wall of Florida" later in his career. Brown is the ninth UF player to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, joining one of his teammates who most inspired him to be great: Wilber Marshall. A year behind Marshall, a first-round pick of the Chicago Bears in 1984, Brown refined his skills trying to block Marshall at practice. When Marshall returned to campus after signing a $1 million bonus check with the Bears, Brown took notice that perhaps that could be in his future. "I ain't never seen that many zeroes on a check until I seen that signing-bonus check,'' chuckled Brown. These days, Brown remains active with the Lions as part of their radio team and in the community as founder of the Lomas Brown Jr. Foundation, a charitable organization aimed to benefit educational institutions and help underprivileged students with scholarships, financial aid and awards programs. He's come a long way since walking the hallways at Miami Springs High. "I knew I had potential, but I never knew I could develop into a first-round pick in the NFL. That never entered my mind when I signed with Florida,'' Brown said. "I was just up there as a young kid having a great time. I didn't even really realize how tough the SEC was when I signed with Florida. I didn't realize the SEC had that kind of reputation. To be honest, I think that was one of the reasons why I was able to step into the NFL and start as a rookie and last 18 years because of going through the turmoil of playing in the SEC." Starting with those workouts under Pell.

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