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Eagles defensive tackle Brown is quite expressive off the field

PHILADELPHIA — PHILADELPHIA -- Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Jerome Brown sits on the stool before his locker like an old industrial cast-iron furnace, giving off not heat but noise.

Whistling, singing, shouting playful abuse at a teammate, badgering reporters -- who generally keep their distance -- fixing anyone who comes near with a wicked grin. At the moment, he is forcefully whistling the old spiritual "Amazing Grace."

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"What do you want?" he shouts at a reporter who ventures near.

His steamer-trunk frame widens abruptly from the flat top of his haircut to massive shoulders and arms, broad chest widens to waist. This torso is mounted on haunches and calves like cinder blocks. He is 6 feet 3 and weighs about 300 pounds (he admits to 295). Critics unnerved by the Eagles' 2-3 start have tried to pin part of the blame here, saying Brown is too heavy, but anyone who sees the defensive lineman in his tight-fitting T-shirt and stretch shorts knows his square bulk is tightly hewn.

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It is also in constant motion, a great ball of nervous energy, and no part of it more so than his mouth. If men could not breathe while talking, Brown would have asphyxiated at birth. In the din of the locker room there is always, above and around everything, his boisterously crude, comical chatter.

Mind you, this is a man who for all of his adult life has been in the public eye. Nearly every day of his life people want to ask him questions, usually the same questions over and over and over. It is one of the enduring annoyances of professional sport that men like Brown, who succeed with physical brilliance for three hours on fall and winter afternoons, must spend the rest of the week's waking hours answering questions about it.

Brown's defense is his menacing manner -- it surrounds him the way German cities in World War II would cloud the sky with flak. Only Brown's flak is all noise (the secret is, he enjoys this stuff).

"You have to really know him before you can tell whether to take him seriously or not," said Brown's cousin Regina Washington, a sixth-grade math teacher who grew up with him in Brooksville, Fla. "I've known him all my life and sometimes I honestly can't tell."

Those who don't know him well tend to give his giant girth wide berth. As the writer approaches, cautiously, Brown falls momentarily silent -- this alone is enough to turn heads in the crowded locker room.

He rolls his brown eyes toward the intruder balefully.

"I have to write a story about you, Jerome."

"What about me?"

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"Well, you tell me. What's the most interesting thing about you right now?"

He shouts out an unprintable reference to a portion of his anatomy, which punctuates the exchange absurdly and sets his teammates laughing, but none with so much gusto as the author of the remark himself, who rocks back on his stool and squeals with delight.

The writer persists.

"So, how are you doing this season so far?"

"I've been doin' [a slang term denoting 'very poorly'], no, average."

"Have you been getting double-teamed at all on your rush?"

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"Yep."

"Is this the first time you've experienced that?"

"Nope."

"How long has that been happening to you?"

"Four games."

"Just this year?"

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zTC "No. Since I been here."

"Really? When you started in your rookie year they were double-teaming you right away?"

Brown leaps to his feet. "---dammit!" he says, and hurls his stool to the center of the room, where it crashes off a large plastic garbage can and rolls across the rug. "Didn't I tell you since I been here!? Goddamn! I said, 'Since I been here.' " Then he mimics the question, " 'Really? Since you been here?' "

He makes an obscene suggestion to the writer, then grins mischievously.

"Excuse me," the writer responds.

Brown retrieves his chair, and sits back down on it before his locker. He composes himself. Then he slowly rolls his eyes back.

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"We'll start it over now," he says.

At age 25, he is now a three-year veteran. After being named NFC defensive rookie of the year in 1987, he posted more impressive numbers in each subsequent year -- 50 tackles in '87, 101 in '88, 132 last season; 4 sacks in '87, 5 in '88, 10.5 last season; 17 hurries in '87, 39 in '88, 46 last season. He is playing out the last season of a $1.7 million contract.

He has built a fine home on 10 acres in Shady Crest, a development outside Brooksville, where his parents now reside, where he coaches his son's Little League baseball team in the summer, and where he once broke up a Ku Klux Klan rally by blasting rap music at top volume on his truck stereo. He has assembled a collection of guns and cars, become a television pitchman for "Hungry Man" frozen meals, lectured to high school students about the evils of drug abuse . . . all without surrendering one decibel of his disdain for convention.

"He was a typical more-than-average-sized boy," recalls Lorenzo Hamilton, who was an assistant principal at Hernando High School when Brown was storming his way through boyhood. "He did not have a violent temper; his temperament was even-like. He was an average student who could have been better if he had been pushed, but he never was. On the football field, he was just so big and so powerful and so fast that he just outdid all his counterparts without even putting forth some special effort."

Hamilton, who says he has watched his former student closely through the years, said that if Brown excels at anything more than sports -- football, baseball and basketball -- it is at drawing attention to himself.

At the University of Miami, when he wasn't bowling over running backs and quarterbacks, Brown was attracting attention in other ways. He was kicked off campus for a semester for possessing a World War II vintage German pistol. He drew attention before the Fiesta Bowl game against Penn State by dressing, along with some teammates, as Rambo, and then walking out of the annual Bowl dinner with other teammates in protest over remarks made by a Penn State player that some considered racist. He finished his college career by being named UPI's defensive lineman of the year.

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"Jerome played like a wild man," said Andy Clary, head trainer at Miami and one of the only remaining top staff members in the football program there from the years Brown played. "He really set the tone for this team in the years he was here. . . . I mean, Jerome just manhandled people on the football field."

He was the ninth pick in the 1987 college draft, the Eagles' No. 1 pick. Asked by reporters to name two things he liked best about playing football, Brown said, "Hitting quarterbacks and . . . ummm . . . hitting quarterbacks."

He has done a lot of that over the last three seasons.

"Jerome, you've played three full seasons in the pros now. Three full seasons and four games."

"Right."

"How would you rate the difference, what's the biggest difference between playing in the pros and playing in college?"

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"Aaah, what?" Brown says, shaking his head at the lameness, the pitiful lameness, of the question. But he rallies. "It's a big difference," he says. "You get paid. I never got paid at Miami."

He laughs long and low.

Recuperating from shoulder surgery in the off-season -- he has a scar on the left shoulder that would be too big for most peoples' backs -- Brown spent a lot of practice time this summer clowning. One day he formed the number "56" on the back of his jersey, and "B&E;" on the front, in tribute to middle linebacker Byron Evans, who skipped precamp workouts as part of his contract holdout. Arriving late in his black truck for the first day of official camp in West Chester, Brown pulled up to the front of the Eagles' dorm, stepped out, and bellowed a profane welcome to his teammates.

According to the numbers, Brown is off to a somewhat slower start in the first fourth of this season than usual -- he has 16 tackles, only one sack and one fumble recovery. But he links his own performance to the success of the team.

"The only thing I'm worried about is trying to get back on the right winning track," he says. "I figure we'll get back on track starting this Monday and push to where we need to be. If the team does well, then I'll do well. . . . I'll never be satisfied with myself because you always can do better. People might say you had a good game, but you say, 'Naw, I didn't have a good game,' because you always, people say you're as good as you want to be, but there always is some room for improvement."

The writer, looking for a way to ease out of the interview now without further damage, asks, "Jerome, do you get any special kick out of playing on Monday Night Football?"

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"I get up to play any game," he says. "The thing about Monday night is you know all the world is watching. All the homeboys going to be back there watching it, and they're going to be talking trash and braggin', and I got to hear it from them if I don't do good. So, that's why you go out and play like a wild man."


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