- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 24, 2001

The NFC title game was a rout. The Giants were leading 34-0, and there was no way the Vikings were going to catch up. So Jim Fassel thought he'd do the smart thing and take out Lomas Brown, his 37-year-old offensive left tackle. No sense in risking injury with the Super Bowl still to play.

There was only one problem: Brown didn't want to come out. Not then, not ever. He was enjoying himself too much.

"I know my career and my window of opportunity is closing," he explained later. "I want to savor every moment, every play that I can. I didn't want to watch the game from the sideline. So I persuaded Coach to put me back in there. He didn't want to put me back in, but I persuaded him to."

If such behavior seems a little, well, crazy, keep in mind that Brown has waited 16 years for this moment. Since 1985, when he was the sixth pick in the draft out of Florida, he has been trying to get to the Super Bowl first with Detroit (as Barry Sanders' top blocker), later with Arizona and last season with the reborn Cleveland Browns. He has appeared in plenty of Pro Bowls seven of them but the closest he has been to the Super Bowl was the '91 NFC championship game, when his Cinderella Lions team came into RFK Stadium and got obliterated by the Redskins, 41-10.

If you call that close.

Asked what he remembers of that awful day, he says, "We weren't a very confident team. We had lost to Washington real bad [45-0] to start the season, and we had never won at RFK. That's the big difference between then and now. [The Giants] are a very confident team, and we're going into the Super Bowl feeling that way."

Every year, it seems, there's a player like Brown in the Super Bowl. Last year it was Tennessee's Bruce Matthews, who had been banging bodies for 17 seasons before fate finally smiled on him. What makes Brown's achievement all the sweeter is that, just 11 months ago, he was wondering if his playing days were over. Cleveland coach Chris Palmer decided to cut him after only one year with the club, and "when you get released by an expansion team, that doesn't sit well with yourself or with a lot of people in the league," Brown says. "They start to wonder whether you still have the skills to play this game. For the first time in my career, I was a little shaken in my confidence."

Even the Giants had doubts about him. So they signed a second veteran tackle, Glenn Parker, just to protect themselves. But general manager Ernie Accorsi was encouraged by a report he got from one of the team doctors. "He told me [Brown] had the best body he'd ever seen for a football player that age."

After Brown started showing his stuff in training camp, Parker was shifted to left guard, and the Giants' line quickly became one of the better run-blocking units in the league. Tiki Barber rushed for 1,006 yards, Ron Dayne gained 770 more and their success took a lot of the pressure off Kerry Collins, who was in his first full season as the starting quarterback and didn't need any added stress. As the weeks went by, Collins grew more and more comfortable, and now he's the one carrying the offense as his five-touchdown, 381-yard game against the Vikes showed.

"We needed some personality and confidence along the [offensive] line, and Lomas Brown and Glenn Parker give us that," Fassel says. "They love to play the game. They're tough guys. For as long as those guys have been in the league, they've missed hardly any time. When they get nicked, they want to play."

Brown, for his part, appreciates the way Fassel defers to his veterans, especially in camp. The Giants coach lets the older guys skip the second practice some days, and Brown is convinced it's the reason he's feeling so spry right now. It's certainly a far cry from last year, when he got on the wrong side of Cleveland management by complaining that the team was working too hard, hitting too much.

"Guys were tired," he says. "I wasn't the only one who felt that way. It was something I was hearing in the locker room. I thought it was my job as one of the leaders of the team to let [the coaches] know."

Palmer probably should have listened. He's unemployed right now. Brown, meanwhile, is getting ready to rumble with the Ravens in the Super Bowl. And, oh, does he want to win not just for the ring, but for his Hall of Fame prospects.

"Longevity is important, too," he says, "but I always felt that to be considered [for the Hall] you had to win something, you had to get to the Super Bowl and win it. Once we win this, I'll feel I have a shot [at Canton]."

Once we win this. Brown, as you can see, likes the Giants' chances. He likes their chemistry. He likes how they jumped on Minnesota in the NFC title game. He likes the matchup of Parker, center Dusty Ziegler and Pro Bowl right guard Ron Stone the strength of the New York line against Baltimore's beefy defensive tackles, Sam Adams and Tony Siragusa.

Of course, when you're in the Super Bowl for the first time at the age of 37, what's not to like?


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