COLLEGE PARK — Clark Brown got his first chance to play quarterback at Michigan State as a redshirt freshman when the starter was injured. He suffered through a losing season with the Spartans and then saw his career wiped out by a serious knee injury the following year.
Maryland's C.J. Brown can relate to father's struggle, given the way his own time as a college quarterback began. Now, as his six-year career interrupted by injuries winds down, Brown is in the midst of writing a better ending than his father did three decades ago.
Brown and the Terps (6-3, 3-2 Big Ten) are coming off their biggest win of the season as they head into Saturday night's game against Michigan State, while the 12th-ranked Spartans (7-2, 4-1) are coming off their most disappointing defeat of the year.
Just as he has for many of his son's games at Maryland, Clark Brown will be at Byrd Stadium rooting for the Terps — even it means putting aside a passion that has enveloped his whole family since he and his wife, Kim, graduated from Michigan State, the school where their daughter, Katie, is now a freshman.
"First of all, blood is blood," Clark Brown said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "The most important thing this week is the Maryland football team and our son, irrespective of who we're playing. It's really a unique experience and we will look back on this after the game.
"The way he's approached it and the way I've asked him to approach is that it's just another game. It's a big game. It's not a big game because you're playing against your dad's alma mater. It's because of the position your team is in and what it means to the university."
C.J. Brown joked that his father is "just worried about tickets, that's pretty much been the big discussion," but he quickly added that his father's message for Saturday's game was "go out there and believe in yourself, believe in your team and just go out there and try to get that win."
That has always been the attitude Clark Brown has instilled in his three children (C.J.'s younger brother Jordan is a redshirt freshman safety at James Madison). It is what Clark Brown tried to do during his career at Michigan State, which had nearly as many bumps as C.J.'s but not as many bright spots.
Clark Brown got his chance to start under new coach George Perles when Michigan State's starter, Dave Yarema, got hurt in the third game of the 1983 season. Brown went 2-5-1 as a starter for a 4-6-1 team. He completed 58.2 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and nine interceptions.
After backing up Yarema for most of his sophomore year, Brown said he "tore up my knee for the last time" and became a student assistant coach. He had undergone knee surgery after being injured in a high school all-star game right before going to Michigan State and wound up having seven knee operations.
It is one of the reasons Clark Brown could give his son more than just the normal parental support when C.J. Brown tore the ACL in his right knee prior to the 2012 season.
"It clearly is a mental game when you go through it. What we talked about is that injuries don't define you, it's how you respond to adversity," Clark Brown said. "If you love the game, then you respond the right way and that's what you're legacy will be."
The elder Brown credits the the support system his son had at Maryland and the way coach Randy Edsall "kept him involved in the program when he could have gone in the tank."
"He had him traveling with the team and coaching the younger kids," Clark Brown saud. "That kept him very sharp and made him a better player."
C.J. Brown credited modern medicine as a reason he was able to continue his career, while his father couldn't.
"He was surprised how quickly I came back," C.J. Brown said. "Obviously his incision's a lot bigger than mine is. The technology and the medicine today is a lot better. He was there every step of the way, trying to help me out, telling me, 'You're going to get back, bigger and stronger. Don't baby it.'"
C.J. Brown said having someone who has gone through many of the same on-field struggles has also helped.
"He understands what goes on within a program. ... He's been in situations that I would face being a starting quarterback," C.J. Brown said. "He can read me, whether I'm up or down, especially when Edsall came. He said, 'Hey, this is a fresh start to solidify yourself, almost a second chance.'"
After suffering through a 2-10 season while sharing the job with Danny O'Brien in 2011, then getting injured in preseason camp the next year, C.J. Brown has played a big role in Maryland's rise back to respectability. The latest big win came Nov. 1, when the Terps beat Penn State, 20-19, to become bowl-eligible for the second straight year.
A week after watching Michigan State's 49-37 home loss to Ohio State with family and friends, Clark Brown will be back Saturday at his favorite tailgate spot outside the Regents Drive Garage and then in his seats cheering on the Terps, forgetting his ties to the visiting team.