- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 8, 2004

Ray Brown has been in the NFL so long some of his teammates were toddlers when he started.

Brown has been around so long he has a daughter older than some of his teammates.

In fact, Brown has been around so long some of his teammates have never even heard of his first NFL team.

“I didn’t know there was a St. Louis Cardinals,” said linebacker Marcus Washington, shaking his head.

Brown turns 42 Sunday, and he’ll observe the occasion by making a little football history.

When he starts at right offensive tackle for the Redskins against the Philadelphia Eagles, Brown will become the first offensive lineman of the modern era to man the trenches at such an advanced age and the first since the 1920s.

Brown will become just the 17th man in NFL history to play any position at that age. His 19-year career is a testament to perseverance, hard work and a sunny disposition.

“It’s crazy that Ray’s playing tackle at 42,” said Chris Samuels, a 27-year-old left tackle. “People talk about Jerry Rice or Darrell Green playing at 42, but Ray’s in the trenches. I know how my body feels after a game, and Ray’s doing it at 42.

“During practice, Ray will say, ‘C’mon, guys. It’s a great day to work.’ Hearing that from a guy who has been around that long motivates me.”

And how long is “that long”? Well …

• Sixteen of the 27 NFL stadiums open when Brown was a rookie in 1986 no longer are league venues.

• Five teams, including the Cardinals, have moved, and another four have come into existence during his 19 seasons.

• Six current NFL coaches still were NFL players in 1986, and Brown is older than coaches Jon Gruden of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Jack Del Rio of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

But while Brown knows he’s in rare territory — only four players as old have started even one game in the last 20 years — he never has forgotten his less than illustrious roots.

“I will never lose the mentality of being an eighth-round pick from a smaller school,” Brown said. “I was cut twice. I’m still that guy who’s got something to prove and who wants to make his mom and dad proud and represent his little hometown in Arkansas.”

The native of Marion played tight end in a wishbone offense at Arkansas State. Brown started just eight games during his first seven years with the Cardinals and the Redskins, whom he joined in 1989 via Plan B free agency — a system that allowed a handful of unprotected players to switch teams.

“We were looking for big guys because of the offense that we had, and Ray was a powerful guy with size,” said Joe Bugel, then and now, Brown’s position coach. “And Ray was a smart, high-character guy who could play a couple of positions. After his debut in Philadelphia [when Brown came off the bench and held future career sacks leader Reggie White sackless] we thought we had a real champion.”

Brown signed with the San Francisco 49ers as a free agent in 1996. He didn’t surrender a sack in 2000 and made his only Pro Bowl in 2001 at 39.

He moved in 2002 to the Detroit Lions, whom he helped allow the fewest sacks in the league both years. He returned to the Redskins last Aug.11 after right tackle Jon Jansen was lost for the season. When Kenyatta Jones was found wanting and rookies Mark Wilson and Jim Molinaro weren’t ready to play, Brown stepped in. He has started 10 of the 12 games.

Coach Joe Gibbs said he’s counting on Brown to return in 2005 although the 6-foot-5, 318-pound jolly giant will make that decision in the offseason along with his wife, Ashley, and their five children.

“My key was always to get in the lineup,” Brown said. “And once I get in there, I’m going to try to stay because I’ve been that guy watching other guys playing. I’ve been the free agent. I’ve been the guy on the bubble. … I’m low maintenance.

“My approach is pretty basic. Give me the weight room, the film and let me get some work in practice at whatever position I’m playing and I’ll go from there.”

And keep going.

Brown hasn’t missed a game in seven years and just one since he was stashed on injured reserve in 1990 and 1991 with ailments that today wouldn’t keep him out of the lineup very long. Brown has started at the four line positions other than center and has played tight end in short-yardage and goal-line situations.

“I never would have thought I could have played this long,” Brown said. “After awhile, character becomes a commodity in the league. That’s the tradeoff, because I’m definitely not as quick as I used to be. I’m smart in how I take care of my body, and I put in plenty of time in the film room, which really helps.”

And even after playing in 243 games, Brown is still learning.

“I’m not a tackle — I’ll be the first to admit it,” Brown said. “I watch [rookie tackles] Mark Wilson and Jim Molinaro. I watch Chris Samuels. And I ask questions. I don’t have a closed mind. You can always learn something. That’s the humbling part about this game.”

Although Gibbs said Brown has been “terrific” and called him “a marvel,” everyone knows if Jansen hadn’t been hurt, Brown probably would never have been a Redskin again.

But when the need occurred, Bugel knew just whom to call: the guy who had first impressed him 15 years ago by going in stone cold and outplaying Reggie White.

“We wanted somebody who was smart and knew the system rather than getting some street guy whom we’d have to teach and didn’t know,” Bugel said. “We hoped that Ray still had some gas left in his tank, and he certainly did. Ray’s never on a downer. He’s a great listener, a very obedient type of guy.

“The young guys see a guy 42 years old running around the field like a 20-year-old and they just feed off him. Ray’s probably the rarest bird I’ve ever been around.”

Notes — Defensive end Phillip Daniels will have season-ending surgery tomorrow on his left wrist, but the Redskins have yet to sign a replacement to the roster. Fourteen players tried out at Redskin Park yesterday, including former NFL defensive linemen Cedric Killings and Norman Heuer and ex-cornerback Tod McBride. …

Linebacker LaVar Arrington is so excited about returning to the field that he said “it will be like my first practice.” … Linebacker Billy Strother, who was cut Friday to make room for cornerback Garnell Wilds, was re-signed to the practice squad.

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