Sunday, August 1, 2021 | Football
Written by Jeff Morris
Photo by Cole Lawrence
OTTAWA, Ontario – A Canadian Football League and Grey Cup legend has joined the Carleton Ravens coaching staff.
Eddie Brown, a 13-year pro in the CFL and a former All-Star, has joined Carleton’s staff as its new receiver’s coach.
“It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” said Brown, who stayed in the Ottawa area after finishing his pro career with the Ottawa Renegades. “There are some really talented receivers here – some great athletes – and I am excited to work with them.”
Brown has been coaching elite prospects and at various levels for the past several years. He is a stickler for fundamentals and footwork, and says that they provide a baseline for athletes to improve. Working on fundamentals and footwork not only got Brown into professional football, but it kept him there. As they say, just because Mozart was a really good pianist doesn’t mean he stopped practicing scales.
“We’re going to work hard on that stuff,” Brown said. “They’re probably going to hate me by the end of the season, but they will all be better receivers.”
Brown grew up in Sacramento and attended Iowa State University. He was originally a quarterback, and before he got to Iowa State, he was planning on playing college basketball.
“I didn’t play football until a lot later into high school,” he said. “I was a basketball player, and I was hoping to play college basketball. My friends were all on the football team, so eventually, I joined them.”
Brown was watching a practice one day and the coach noticed him throwing the ball. Before long, he was getting a crash course on how to be a quarterback, and his team was winning championships.
“When I went to Iowa State, it was to play football and basketball,” Brown said. “But I focused on being a football player.”
Brown was a passing quarterback, but late in his collegiate career, a coaching change meant a new offense. The Cyclones put in a veer option offense, and the quarterback became more of a runner than a passer. In a game against Oklahoma, Brown took the hardest hit of his life, courtesy of linebacker Brian Bosworth. Becoming a wide receiver seemed like an appealing option at the time. He averaged more than 20 yards per catch in his NCAA career, scoring five touchdowns.
Although his numbers were not spectacular, they were good enough to get him an invite into the San Diego Chargers camp the following year. When the Chargers released him, he had an opportunity to come to Canada to play in the CFL.
“One of my coaches in college was teammates with Wally Buono in the CFL, so he reached out to him,” Brown said. “I didn’t know anything about the CFL, and I didn’t know anything about Canada. All I knew was that the CFL was like a last chance league for some of the guys who didn’t make the NFL but still wanted to play.”
Brown arrived in Calgary and laughs about his first venture into Canada.
“They sent me some tapes of Canadian football games to watch, and all of the games they sent me were played in the snow,” he said. “So when I went to Calgary, I had a parka and boots, because I was expecting snow. The problem was that it was June, and it was really hot. I looked ridiculous when I landed there.”
It was Buono that gave Brown the nickname “Downtown” that stuck with him throughout his pro football career.
“Wally started calling me ‘Downtown Eddie Brown’ one day at practice,” he said. “I didn’t really like it at first, but then Wally told me that you had to be good to earn a nickname, and I was given one. After that, I just embraced it.”
Brown played for three different teams in three years, starting with Calgary in 1990, then going to the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1991.
“For an American receiver to come up and really get comfortable with the Canadian game, it takes two or three years,” Brown said.
In 1992, Brown signed with the Sacramento Surge of the World League of American Football. It was there, he said, that an opportunity led him to see first hand what it takes to be a great receiver.
“There were three or four of us that got the opportunity to train and practice with the San Francisco 49ers,” he said. “I got the chance to work with Jerry Rice. I saw first hand how hard he worked and how much he put into it. I learned why he became the best ever.”
After playing in Sacramento, Brown came back to Canada and signed with the Toronto Argonauts. In 10 games, he caught 31 passes and scored five touchdowns.
Before the 1993 season, Brown was traded to the Edmonton Eskimos. That year, everything fell into place for him. He had a career high 67 receptions for 1,378 yards and 15 touchdowns. He also helped the Eskimos win the Grey Cup.
The next year, Brown continued to excel. He had 79 receptions for 1,126 yards and scored 12 TDs. He split the 1995 season between the Memphis Mad Dogs and Edmonton, and then had another big year with Edmonton in 1996 with his third CFL season with more than 1,000 yards receiving. While he had 70 catches for 1,325 yards and seven touchdowns.
Edmonton reached the 1996 Grey Cup that year, as they faced the Toronto Argonauts in the snow at Ivor Wynne Stadium in Hamilton. In that game, Brown caught a touchdown pass that, 25 years later, remains one of the most iconic plays in CFL history. Brown ran a deep pass route, and the ball was deflected and ended up near his feet. At full speed, Brown hacky-sacked the ball back into his arms and ran for a touchdown. The play still gets shown on TSN every time they have a top 10 list of great CFL catches or Grey Cup plays.
“When I meet people, that catch is usually the first thing they ask me about,” he said. “Everyone had these theories about that catch, but I will set the record straight. I am no good at hacky sack, we didn’t kick a soccer ball around before the game, it was nothing like that. In fact, I was so frustrated that the defender got a hand on the ball that I was trying to kick it out of bounds. I just mis-kicked and it ended up back in my hands, so I thought, ‘Oh well, I guess I’m going to score.’ It’s great that they show the play all the time, but I absolutely was not trying to kick the ball back to myself.”
Before Brown’s CFL journey ended, he had landed with the BC Lions, Montreal Alouettes, Toronto Argonauts and Ottawa Renegades.
In addition into being a CFL all-star receiver, he was also an accomplished punt and kick returner.
“When I was in Edmonton, Gizmo Williams was there,” he said. “He was the best, and I learned a lot about returning from him. When he got hurt, I got the chance to run back punts. It was exciting, and it was something I loved doing.”
Brown says he hopes to get the opportunity to work with the returners during his time at Carleton.
“That’s obviously up to Coach (Steve) Sumarah, but I would like to help out wherever I can, and working with the returners is something I would like to do.”
A decade after his retirement, Brown played semi-pro football with the Ottawa Invaders of the Northern Football Conference. For all of the great plays, great games and the Grey Cup, it was a touchdown scored on a simple out pattern from the five yard line in front of about 500 people at Beckwith Field that remains the most memorable touchdown of his career.
“I had kids later in life, so they never got to see me play,” he said. “I remember that play. The DB was way off of me, and I thought, ‘What is he doing? This is going to be the easiest touchdown I have ever scored.’ When the ball came to me, I was wide open in the end zone.”
Brown slid to the ground as he took in the pass for the easy score. Right after that catch, Brown had his magical football moment.
“When I caught the ball, I was right near the sideline,” he said. “I looked up, and standing on the sideline about three feet away from me was my son, cheering. I just got up, smiled, and I flipped him the ball. My son had seen me score a touchdown. It was the greatest feeling. After that moment, I knew that I was done with playing football. That was the moment I was looking for.”
Brown, like everyone else, is eagerly awaiting the start of the OUA football season. He is looking forward to putting on Ravens gear and being on the sideline.
“I’m really going to enjoy it,” he said. “I want to make a difference with this team.”
To listen to the full interview with Eddie Brown, listen to the Carleton Ravens Football Podcast.