Mike Brown: Athlete, Scholar, Husker Legend
Randy York's N-Sider
In 1997, ’98 and ’99, Mike Brown started his last 36 games at Nebraska. He played in two Orange Bowls, a Fiesta Bowl and a Holiday Bowl. Before Barrett Ruud became a Husker, Brown was Nebraska’s second all-time leading tackler behind Jerry Murtaugh. Brown capped his collegiate career as a First-Team All-American, a First-Team Academic All-American and a true legend who last August drew a slew of fan votes on Huskers.com to become one of Nebraska’s eight favorite Blackshirts of all time. In this the 50th anniversary of the fabled black jerseys, we salute the Huskers’ defensive “rover” who went on to play 10 years in the NFL – nine with the Chicago Bears and his final year with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Brown started 115 of the 116 NFL games in which he played. He made 496 solo tackles, had 114 assists, intercepted 20 passes, forced eight fumbles and recovered eight fumbles that resulted in three more touchdowns. Brown is a driven but quiet and humble man who prefers to talk about anybody but himself. With our utmost respect for Brown, the N-Sider asked Kim Schellpeper, a longtime Nebraska Athletics academic counselor who was a mentor to Brown and remains a close friend. Please join our conversation to appreciate Schellpeper’s insight on Mike Brown, the All-American, the Academic All-American, the Husker legend:
Q: Mike Brown has always said you’re the reason he’s an Academic All-American. Is that true and please elaborate on why it is or isn’t true?
A: Yes, he’s said that to me as well, but honestly I’m not sure why. I don’t think there was ever much doubt that Mike had the academic ability as well as the athletic talent that would one day make him a great candidate for Academic All-America honors. To be honest, I never really thought that Mike needed my assistance, or anyone else’s for that matter, in order to do well in school. From the very beginning, Mike understood what it took to do well in school. It wasn’t anything that he needed to be taught or have explained. I remember asking Mike how he managed being a successful student while being a Division I student-athlete. Mike told me he had a rule - always do your homework first, have fun with teammates and friends second. I remember being so blown away to hear such maturity and wisdom coming from an 18 year old freshman. He had already mastered what some of his older teammates were still trying to figure out. Whatever role I played, if any, in Mike’s success was certainly secondary to Mike’s work ethic and academic talent. I remember having conversations about academic honors such as Academic All-American, but it wasn’t until after Mike earned Academic All-American recognition that he admitted to me that earning that honor had been on his radar since that first year.
Q: When Nebraska went to the Holiday Bowl in San Diego, Mike couldn’t wait to see you, his academic counselor, because you had such a profound effect on the way he sees and approaches life. He told me you helped him keep life in perspective. How do you do that?
A: It’s always a bit daunting for me to hear comments like this, I guess because I’m not thinking about long-term effects when I’m working with students. Most of the time, I’m just hoping to get through the day, the week or the semester! In regard to Mike, there was never a worry about his academic performance, but that isn’t to say that life was always rosy in Lincoln. Most people didn’t know this at the time, but Mike struggled a bit in his transition to Nebraska. In fact, I didn’t even know about it until his mother called me one day and told me that she was worried about him. I don’t believe Mike ever knew about that phone call, but it helped me be more sensitive to what he was going through and to provide him the type of support that he needed to feel comfortable. I always let Mike, and his teammates, know that I was there for them – any time night or day. They knew that I was always willing to listen to their concerns and, if solicited, to offer advice. In effect, I think I more or less, became the Nebraska mom. I was the person who was going to give them a big hug to celebrate their achievements or give them a little push if they needed to pick it up. In addition, I’ve always tried to be honest in my approach. Sometimes, you’ve just got to tell it like it is. Interestingly enough, the one thing former students have always said they appreciated about working with me was my willingness to flat out tell them how it is and how it’s going to be.
Q: What are Mike’s greatest strengths and how does he improve and refine them?
A: Wow, great question and one that I hope I can do justice. Mike is a truly unique individual and someone who doesn’t let a whole lot of people in his inner circle. I know I’ve already mentioned Mike’s great academic and athletic talent – I don’t think anyone can argue with that. One thing that I think went under the radar for those outside of the Athletic Department was Mike’s leadership skills. He brought it every day to practice and he brought it every day to the classroom. What really stands out to me was his quest to always give his best effort and to always expect his teammates and those around him to do the same thing. He was always such a great role model as well as a tremendous asset to our entire program. You know, I think I’m a better person today because I am fortunate enough to know Mike Brown.
Q: Mike was such a smart player. He was also a physical player, yet he’s quiet and soft-spoken off the field. When people meet him, are they surprised he was All-American who played 10 years in the NFL?
A: I don’t think anyone who followed his career at Nebraska was surprised at what he accomplished in the NFL. He always used to say, “Don’t let the glasses fool you” and he meant it. Now, he won’t like this analogy, but I guess you could say that he was kind of a real life Clark Kent – mild-mannered off the field, but certainly a bit of a Superman on the field. I remember when we were at the Fiesta Bowl in Mike’s senior year. I was visiting with some of the freshmen on that year’s team and we were talking about the senior class. I don’t know why but I asked them, “Who is the one senior you fear the most?” To a man, they all said Mike Brown. That shocked me. I had known Mike for four years and was used to his quiet, soft-spoken approach. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized what a force he was on the field and what a force he would continue to be throughout his NFL career.
Q: In your mind, what’s the most memorable moment in Mike’s lifetime journey?
A: Well, it would be so easy to mention any of his many athletic or academic accomplishments, but I’m going to say that, without a doubt, his wedding is probably his most memorable moment. I remember that Mike always used to say that he was never going to get married and wasn’t going to have children. I used to say that not only would he get married, but he would be one of the first to do so. Well, as it turns out, I was right. Mike was one of the first guys in his group to tie the knot. I believe that becoming a husband and now a father are probably the dearest things in Mike’s life. I remember that Mike and I spent a good deal of time visiting about family and the impact that our upbringings have on our lives. He was fortunate enough to marry his high school sweetheart. I don’t think there is a day that goes by that he isn’t thankful to have his wife and his two children in his life.
Q: Why is Mike Brown a walking, talking billboard for a Nebraska Athletic and Academic All-American, even though he’s extraordinarily humble and intensely private?
A: I think it’s because Mike embodies everything that it takes to achieve such recognition. Everything he has achieved was accomplished through hard work, discipline, passion and high expectations. He never asked for or expected any special favors. In the classroom, he wanted to be treated like any other student. He went to class, did his homework, performed well on exams and took care of his business. Athletically, he let his play on the field define his career as a football player. He was never interested in the hype or the glory, just the sense of accomplishment when he achieved his personal goals or helped his team achieve their goals.
Q: What is your personal mission when it comes to supporting any student-athlete?
A: My educational approach has always been one that is student-centered. James Comer said, “No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.” I believe this to be true. That is why I’ve always believed that it is important for me to listen to my students and to hear and respect their individual stories. One thing my students have always known is that I am genuinely concerned with their overall well-being. I think this is why I’ve been so successful connecting with and building relationships with my students and why they’ve felt comfortable sharing their lives with me. My first year at Nebraska was also Mike’s first year at Nebraska. One of my initial responsibilities was to work with the first-year students in the sport of football, which included Mike, and men’s basketball. During the day, students would come to my office and we’d talk about academic concerns, athletic concerns and we’d talk about life. After practice, I’d meet them for study hall for another two hours. It’s safe to say that they probably saw more of me than they wanted to. The interesting thing is that because of all of the time we spent together, Mike’s class is probably the group that I’ve been most connected to. Nineteen years later, we’re still connected, still communicating, still listening, still caring, and still supporting one another.
Q: Talk about the satisfaction you take in seeing a student-athlete like Mike Brown succeed in school and in life?
A: Gosh, that’s really the main goal, isn’t it? I take such pride and satisfaction in seeing all of our students achieve success in their lives. The interesting thing is that the definition of success might be different for each and every one. Some, like Mike, have gone on to have stellar careers as professional athletes and others have gone on to achieve great success in their jobs and careers outside of sport. To me – they are all winners.
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