Sep 29, 2011, 4:27 PM EDT
As an Eagles fan that grew up during the Buddy Ryan era, both Reggie and Jerome were larger than life. They combined to form the most devastating defensive end/defensive tackle combination I’ve ever seen.
The front four of White, Brown, Mike Pitts, and Clyde Simmons was relentless. I can still picture the four of them — #92, #99, #74, and #96 — down in their stance ready to unleash hell on the opposing offensive line and quarterback. It was plain to see though, that Reggie and Jerome were the most talented of the four.
The two were an unlikely pair. Reggie was a god-fearing man of faith who spoke in a distinctive raspy voice. His tone always measured, befitting his status as an ordained minister. Jerome was a loud anti-authoritarian who would tell you he was going to kick your ass, proceed to kick your ass, and then remind you how thoroughly your ass had just been kicked.
Reggie arrived in Philly in 1985, fresh off a stint with the Memphis Showboats of the USFL. He recorded 31 sacks over his first two seasons in Philly. Two years later, Jerome Brown arrived as a first round pick out of Miami. It was no coincidence that Reggie recorded the highest single season sack total of his career, 21 in just 13 games, during Jerome’s rookie year.
Opposing offenses had to pick their poison. They could double-team Reggie with a tackle and guard, and leave Jerome Brown to work against the center, or they could leave their tackle on an island against Reggie and slide their protection inside to deal with Jerome. Either way, the quarterback was going to get hit.
Buddy Ryan’s defense was predicated on pressure and hitting. Reggie and Jerome were ideally suited to carry out those two tasks. Looking back now, I think I was captivated by the degree and manner in which that defense destroyed people. To put it simply, I was in awe of how badass they were.
I was too young to remember the Broad Street Bullies wreaking havoc on the NHL. The Buddy Ryan Eagles were my Broad Street Bullies. It was the first time I’d ever rooted for the gang of pillaging marauders to win. They’d punch you in the mouth, strip the football, lateral it a few times, and then dance in the end zone while you were wiping the blood off your face. It was exhilarating.
That attitude came from Jerome Brown. Reggie was the superstar, but J.B. was the heart and soul. Mix those two All-Pro talents with the athleticism of Byron Evans, the perpetual scowl and attitude of Seth Joyner (aka Uncle Seth), the cover ability of Eric Allen, the range of Wes Hopkins, and the nastiness of Andre Waters and you had one of the all-time greatest, hardest hitting, shit talking defenses in NFL history.
Ultimately, Buddy Ryan was unable to win a playoff game as the Eagles head coach. He was replaced by Rich Kotite prior to the 1991 season. The offense was as mismanaged as ever, but Bud Carson stepped into the defensive coordinator position and fine-tuned the defense.
Reggie and Jerome combined for 24 sacks that season, as the Birds became just the fifth team in NFL history to finish #1 in overall defense, #1 against the run, and #1 against the pass. They were set up for years of future success.
That all changed on June 25, 1992 when Jerome Brown was killed in a single car crash in his hometown of Brooksville, Florida. I remember being on the boardwalk in Ocean City, NJ when I heard the news. I felt the same pit in my stomach as I did when I learned Pelle Lindbergh died. Athletes weren’t supposed to die like that.
The entire 1992 season was a tribute to Jerome Brown. The Eagles wore #99 J.B. patches on their jerseys. Seth Joyner shaved #99 into the back of his flat-top fade. For one of the few times his tenure as owner of the Eagles Norman Braman actually did the right thing and retired Jerome’s #99 prior to the home opener. The Eagles would break their pregame huddle with “1, 2, 3, J.B.!” The rallying cry for the season became “Bring it home for Jerome.”
They managed to go 11-5 and actually win a playoff game before falling to Dallas in the Divisional Playoffs. The loss to Dallas marked the final time Reggie White wore an Eagles uniform.
1993 was the first year of NFL Free Agency. Norman Braman wanted no parts of spending any money and, bit by bit, the Eagles were dismantled. Reggie White signed with Green Bay, apparently never having received an offer from the Eagles.
I suppose it was somewhat fitting that Reggie left Philadelphia just one year removed from Jerome Brown’s death. He mourned and honored his friend here, in the city where they meet, before moving on and ultimately winning a Super Bowl with the Packers.
Like Jerome Brown, Reggie White died way too young. White, who was just 43 years old, passed away in 2004.
For Philadelphia fans the two men will always be linked. They are fondly remembered for ushering in an era of dominating defensive football.
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