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Brown still blocking his way into sunset at age 43

Jan. 10, 2006

By Clark Judge

CBS SportsLine.com Senior Writer

Tell Clark your opinion!


When the Associated Press last week announced the results of its Comeback Player of the Year voting, Ray Brown's name was not included. And that's not right.

Not counting playoffs, Ray Brown has started an amazing 205 NFL games. (Getty Images)

Not because the Washington offensive lineman overcame a significant injury, led his team to a division title, scored a key touchdown, threw a winning pass or made a pivotal play that people will talk about for years. He did none of those things.

No, what should have made Ray Brown a candidate is ... well, that he came back. Period.

And isn't that what this award is all about? Coming back? Brown wasn't supposed to. In fact, head coach Joe Gibbs and Joe Bugel, the team's assistant head coach in charge of offense, had to talk him out of retirement, and now Ray Brown not only plays but starts on a club that is two wins from the Super Bowl.

Oh, yeah, Ray Brown is 43, the oldest lineman ever to appear in an NFL playoff game.

"I've been blessed," said Brown. "Good coaches. A family that supports me. Friends. So the ride isn't just my ride."

Five years ago I asked an NFL assistant what Brown's future was, and he shook his head. "Can't play anymore," he said. But Brown could. And he did. He continued to play in San Francisco. And Detroit. And Washington.

When it appeared his career was over after two seasons with the Lions, Washington unexpectedly re-entered the picture -- calling after Jon Jansen ruptured his Achilles tendon in the 2004 exhibition opener, sidelining the right tackle for the season.

It was on the charter flight home that Washington coach Joe Gibbs asked where he should turn for help. When someone mentioned Ray Brown's name, Gibbs nodded.

"Perfect," he said.

And he has been. Ray Brown can play tackle or guard. Plus, he's the ideal addition for a team with young offensive linemen in search of a mentor. He knows the game. He's smart. He's experienced. And he's upbeat.

In fact, he's so positive, so kind and so helpful to others that San Francisco's beat writers dubbed him "the professional gentleman."

But that's not what keeps him in the game. Ray Brown can play, and at 43 he can start if you need him -- which Washington did a year ago when he spent most of the season filling in for Jansen.

Brown returned to the bench this year but launched that Comeback of the Year campaign when right guard Randy Thomas broke his ankle just over three weeks ago. It was then the Redskins called on him again, and they haven't lost since he rejoined the starting lineup. "I decided to come back only if I felt I could contribute," said Brown. "I wasn't going to cheat myself or cheat the game. I wanted to come back and be credible. I didn't want it to be a side-show type of thing where this guy is 43 and barely making it.


"I still want to be good. That's important to me. In fact, I want to be great while I'm playing. And I'm motivated by that."

He's also motivated by what's happening with the Redskins. At 5-6 in early December, they looked more like the Deadskins, stuck near the bottom of the NFC East and headed for their sixth straight non-winning season.

But then something weird, something wonderful, happened -- and Brown still can't explain it. Washington started winning. And winning. And winning. And it hasn't stopped, with the Redskins' six-game tear, the longest current streak of any playoff team in either conference.

OK, so the offense hasn't been great. In fact, in last weekend's 17-10 defeat of Tampa, it was downright dreadful. But it was more productive this season than it was a year ago, and Brown is hopeful it can be again. And if it's not ... well, the Redskins still have that defense.

"We need them," Brown said. "The way they've been playing the last two years ... if we just add some kind of window dressing offensively we're going to be a pretty good football team. If we play last year (on offense as we have most of this season) we represent the NFC in the Super Bowl."

I know a couple of guys in South Philly who might disagree, but, hey, Ray Brown has the floor -- and he has our attention ... at least for one more game. Brown insists this is it; that his 20-year career will end when Washington's season ends, which could be Saturday in Seattle.

"I'm all right with it being over," he said, "but I cling to those moments I give this season. I probably appreciate the game more now because when you're young you think it will go on forever."

Ray Brown knows better. He also knows that where one life ends another begins, and so he talks about later this year opening a community center where he grew up in Arkansas. He talks about getting involved in his children's schools, too. He even talks about running for the school board.

"I'm low maintenance," he said. "But I'll be around the game because I love the game."

Here's hoping Ray Brown stays as long as he played.

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