“The worse the (opponent), the worse he plays.”
“I get tired of seeing replays of other teams’ TD catches and there’s good ol’ No. 3 diving at someone’s feet, beat yet again on coverage.”
“I’m just not sure how many times we can forgive his costly mistakes.”
“I can’t think of any player in the last 20 years at Michigan who has been the recipient of so much criticism.”
And those were the kinder comments aimed at Stevie Brown, when he was a free safety at the University of Michigan.
Until he was moved off the back line of defence as a senior in 2009, the poor guy was despised in college.
Fans carved him – at games, on talk radio and on the Internet, such as those who posted the above comments (after Brown’s junior year) at MGoBlog.com, the most popular team-specific sports blog in America.
Now fast-forward to this week.
A starker contrast you will not find. Stevie Brown finally – suddenly – is the toast of somebody’s town. An NFL town.
The Big Apple at that.
The entire league, in fact, is buzzing about Stevie Brown this week.
A third-year free safety with the New York Giants, Brown had two picks and a fumble recovery last Sunday in a 29-24 win at Dallas. (I took the accompanying photos of him in NYG gear at training camp.)
Brown now leads the league in takeaways with seven – five interceptions and two fumble recoveries, all amassed in the past five weeks. He has only been starting for four weeks, subbing for the injured Kenny Phillips.
Shades of Lou Gehrig and Wally Pipp.
What’s more, Brown has five pass breakups this season, and his 168 interception-return yards are the most by any Giant since 1963.
It’s all the farthest cry from his days in Ann Arbor.
“It definitely feels good – especially that I haven’t let my teammates down, because that’s the main thing,” Brown said in a telephone interview.
“I want to be one of the guys that my teammates can trust to do his job.”
Brown’s Giants teammates – and coaches – trust him so much, in fact, that while Phillips appears healthy enough to return this week he probably won’t send the NFC’s defensive player of the week back to the bench.
“Stevie’s hard to unseat right now,” Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said Thursday.
Brown’s biggest fan on the Giants apparently is his head coach, Tom Coughlin.
“I’m (his) greatest cheerleader in the world,” Coughlin said this week.
“He’s done a very good job, he’s being recognized by all of us, and has been a huge factor in our being able to win a few games in a row.”
So was Brown really all that bad in college?
Many times, yes, when he played free safety. Brown often was the culprit as some Appalachian State player, or Buckeye, or Nittany Lion, or Spartan would score yet another long touchdown during the nadir of modern Michigan football: Lloyd Carr’s last year, 2007, and Rich Rodriguez’s first two.
You’d see Brown whiff on the saving tackle. Or blow the coverage. Or take what MGoBlog editor Brian Cook once described as “the worst angle in the history of angles.”
Brown (No. 3, at right) swears he was oblivious to most of the criticism. And for that he credits the advice of his Year 2 secondary coach, Vance Bedford.
“He was like, ‘There’s no point in reading papers. There’s no point in reading news articles, or watching anything. Because when everything’s going good, all those people are patting you on the back. But as soon as one thing goes wrong, they’re going to be all over you.’
“So he was like, ‘Keep to your circle (of trusted friends). You don’t need to worry about anything.’ That’s really just how I’ve always been. I’m not a big media guy. I don’t really read anything. I don’t watch anything. I just stick to people I trust.”
Even so, you’d think he would feel now as though the football gods finally are cutting him a break, after running out of pins to stab into their Stevie Brown dolls.
“Oh, no, not at all,” Brown said. “Because in a lot of those big plays (at Michigan), they might not have even happened on my side, and may not have even been my responsibility. I just happened to be hustling over there – and I’m the one on the camera at the end of the play. So it looked like it’s on me.
“But I’m never going to be the one who’s not gonna hustle on the field, or not try to track down the ball carrier even if he’s one yard from scoring. That’s just my nature. It just happens that I’m getting to the ball now – and it’s for a good thing.”
The Giants are Brown’s fourth NFL team. In the 2010 draft the Oakland Raiders selected him in the seventh and final round, 251st overall.
The fact his defensive coaches at Michigan had turned him into a hybrid strong-safety/linebacker in his senior year – which he was actually quite good at, as MGoBlog always noted (and when the accompanying photos were taken) – hurt his draft stock. Teams weren’t sure “what position I was going to play when I got into the league,” Brown said.
The 5-foot-11, 221-pounder did play free safety for the Raiders as a rookie, then was among the team’s final cuts before last season. Carolina picked him up for a few days only, before Brown landed with the Indianapolis Colts – near his hometown of Columbus, Ind. He played only on special teams.
Brown signed with the Giants in the spring.
“Since I’ve been here I’ve been given a lot more of an opportunity to play, and it’s been working for me,” the 25-year-old said.
“Just playing (in games),” he said. “Live bullets are the best teaching tools. Practice is good, and sharpens what you need to do. But live bullets definitely prepare you best.”
So now, of course, everybody is showering Brown with praise. Does Bedford’s sage advice come into play once again?
“Yeah, exactly,” Brown said. “You’re never as good as they say you are. You’re never as bad as they say you are. So just keep going.”
STEVIE BROWN, BY THE NUMBERS:
The New York Giants free safety this season has:
2 fumble recoveries
5 pass break-ups
… in 5 games as an injury fill-in.
He is in his 3rd year in NFL, on his 4th team, is the current NFC defensive player of the week, stands 5-foot-11, weighs 221 pounds, is 25 years old. At the University of Michigan had the same number of takeaways, 7, in 50 games over 4 years from 2006-09 as he has had in the past five weeks.