On draft day weekend 2005, after all of the major decisions had been made, Joe Gibbs had a chance to reflect upon the overall makeup of the Redskins for this NFL season. One of the first things he spoke about back then was the team's offensive line, which he believes will be much improved in 2005.
He said, among other things, that he expects Ray Brown to make another solid contribution in 2005--at whichever position he plays, for whatever duration.
Therein, of course, lies a remarkable story. That Ray Brown is even part of the conversation as far as playing in the NFL in 2005 is quite extraordinary.
It's the 20th season for Brown, who's not a punter or place-kicker, not a third-down, pass-rush specialist. What's most remarkable about Brown's career is that he's been competing as an offensive lineman.
The 6-5, 318-pound Brown played in all 16 games for the Redskins a year ago, starting 14. Following Jansen's season-ending Achilles tendon injury versus Denver in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio, the Redskins coaxed another year out of Brown. He started 13 times for Jansen at right tackle, and then moved inside to right guard for the injured Randy Thomas versus Pittsburgh in Week 12.
On March 30 of this year, Brown made it official, signing a contract with the Redskins to come back for season No. 20. The transaction was accompanied with little fanfare.
"It's not a big deal," Brown repeated, when asked about the decision. Pressed for comment, he added: "I'm just excited about coming back for another season. That outweighs any significance attached to playing 20 years. I feel really fortunate to be playing for a team coached by Joe Gibbs."
Quarterbacks George Blanda (26 years) and Earl Morrall (22 years) have pro football's record for most years of service among non-kickers. This year, Brown ties the record of 20 years for an offensive lineman, the previous one being Jackie Slater of the Los Angeles and St. Louis Rams (1976-95). Darrell Green played 20 years at cornerback for the Redskins.
Way back in 1986, Brown entered the NFL as an eighth-round pick of the St. Louis Cardinals. He spent two years in St. Louis and one in Phoenix before joining the Redskins in 1989 for a six-year run. He spent the Redskins' 1991 Super Bowl championship run on injured reserve due to an elbow injury.
The former Arkansas State player was with San Francisco between 1996 and 2001, earning a Pro Bowl berth in his final season with the 49ers. Following that, he was with the Detroit Lions for two seasons.
Brown enters the 2005 campaign having played in 246 NFL games, with 203 starts. Between 1994 as a Redskin and 2003 in Detroit, Brown missed just one start. That was in 1997, in San Francisco.
"I've always taken it one year at a time," Brown said. "I'm grateful for the years I've played. Hopefully I have 16 more games to give to the Redskins."
Since the departure of Green in 2002, the Redskins have not really had an elder statesman. Brown can step into a leadership void--and he appears willing to help.
"I can contribute in the locker room," says the Marion, Ark., native. "I've been through a lot of things and I've shared a lot of things in this game. I'll share with my teammates as much as was shared with me. That's what veteran ball players should be willing to do, and have to do."
Some time ago, Brown developed the attitude and the corresponding mantra that has had the effect of helping him to keep going, truly against the odds, in the NFL. As Brown's teammates are well aware, his often-cited anthem is: "I love the pros."
That outlook has carried him into his 20th NFL campaign.