"I think to myself, do you know how many guys play their whole careers and never get the chance to be a champion? Yet, I was lucky enough to experience it. Sometimes I stop and think, man that was big deal, a Super Bowl! And I had the opportunity to be a part of it!”
During our conversation we brought up names like Cortez Kennedy and Ernie Banks, guys who either never saw the post season or had a mere fleeting chance that netted no success. Brown reaffirms his incredulity and laughs heartily: “I talk to guys here at work, and they’re like, ’Wow, you were in the Super Bowl? On the other hand, take someone like (former teammate) Charles Haley. Now that dude has won five of these Super Bowl rings, I think? You wonder after winning five of them, does it get old?”
Dennis Brown was drafted by, and played his whole career with, the San Francisco 49ers. Early in his NFL career, the 49ers often advanced deep into the playoffs, only to struggle with the Super Bowl within sight. Three times they fell to their nemesis, the Dallas Cowboys. Finally it all came together in 1994. Dennis Brown found himself in Miami, Florida, preparing for an appearance in the Super Bowl.
“(49er owner) Mr. Debartolo had rented out three entire floors of a hotel, and another three floors of another hotel down the street and around the corner for the players’ families,” said Brown. “We had limos at our disposal, shuttles to and from the hotel. We had reservations in just about every restaurant in the area. We would run into guys from the San Diego Chargers, and they (weren’t getting the same treatment.) We were there for like two weeks. For the first part of the trip we would practice for an hour, then spend the rest of the day doing whatever we wanted. It was a lot of fun.”
Brown was asked what detail of the Super Bowl experience surprised him most. “Media Day!” he exclaimed with a laugh. “I truly wasn’t expecting all the hoopla. Media Day blew me away. We’re sitting there in the stadium in our little chairs, and there were all these different languages being spoken. I mean people from all over the world were covering this event. The entire stadium was full of people.”
Forty-eight hours before kickoff, Brown noticed a change come over the entire 49er team. The team’s demeanor shifted from light-hearted to somber, laser-beam focused. Come the hours before kickoff, the 49er locker room was stone quiet.
“We had all these veterans that had been in these types of games before, and knew how to respond. I remember looking over at Jerry (Rice), at his eyes, and you could tell that, hey, we’re gonna win this game. Right before the kickoff on the sideline, Steve Wallace was just staring at the field. And we went out and played a flawless game. By halftime I was thinking, we’re thirty minutes away from winning a Super Bowl!”
For Dennis Brown, it was almost surreal to be on the field playing, and having respected veteran Charles Mann backing him up at defensive tackle. A few years earlier, when Brown was a young star at the University of Washington, he had a poster of Charles Mann on his wall. “He was a guy I really looked up to,” recalled Brown. “And here I am in the Super Bowl with him as my backup. It was an amazing feeling.”
The 49ers romped all over the Chargers. As the clock was winding down, Dennis Brown was standing alongside teammate Dana Stubblefield when 49er QB Steve Young went walking exuberantly past, and yelled at the two men. “I got the monkey off my back! I got the monkey off my back!” shouted Young. Brown and Stubblefield looked at each other and laughed, saying “Huh? What monkey? What is he talking about?”
The victorious 49ers left the field. Their locker room that had been so quiet hours earlier was now pure bedlam. Coach George Seifert called the entire defense up to the front, and passed the Halas Trophy amongst them. Then he did the same for the offense. Fellow former Husky Jamal Fountaine was also on that 49er team. Dennis Brown handed him his camcorder and Fountaine recorded Brown as he held up the trophy and kissed it in exaltation. Brown describes the experience: “In that moment, everything we had battled for in our 18-week war had been accomplished. Everything felt complete.”
Following this, the media was allowed to swarm into the locker room, and the players were beset with an exhaustive swarm of quote-hungry reporters. By the time this ran its course, everybody was satisfied but wiped out physically and emotionally.
Dennis Brown and his gridiron cohorts boarded the team bus to leave the stadium. “It was so quiet on the bus. Everybody was just thinking about what they had accomplished. I was in a two-year stretch where things weren’t gong very well for me-- my marriage was about over, I had some health problems, things like that. But this game was an escape, a chance to get away from everything for a while... So we’re on the bus, and Ricky Jackson’s son fell asleep on me… I was quietly looking out the window at all the buildings going by, and I thought, Wow, I just won a Super Bowl-- and here I’ve got this kid asleep on my leg,” laughs Brown.
A few weeks later, the 49ers rented out an entire resort in Colorado Springs, and the 49er organization lived like kings for two weeks. The players received their Super Bowl rings. Brown received a set of his and hers Super Bowl Rings. To his 9-year old son went one, and to his 11-year daughter will go the other. “I have my son’s in a safety deposit box,” says Brown. I’ll keep it there until he turns 21. I can’t give to him now, or even when he’s in high school… He’d probably go give it to some girl.”
Derek Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org