Catching up with James Brown

July, 18, 2008
7/18/08
6:34
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin 

James Brown is more than a decade removed from the biggest triumphs of his college football career. But he still hasn't lost the touch of leading his team to big victories.

The former Texas quarterback helped bridge two eras at his school. He helped the Longhorns win their final game in Southwest Conference history with a stunning upset victory at Texas A&M in 1995. And he notched an even bigger upset the following season when he directed Texas to the Big 12 title over Nebraska.

 
 Jamie Squire /Allsport
 Former Texas Longhorns quarterback James Brown, seen here in the 1996 conference title game against Nebraska, is still throwing touchdowns in Texas.

Brown, 33, is still accomplishing big things in football -- albeit on a much smaller scale. After joining the club earlier this season, he's directed the CenTex Barracudas to a playoff berth in the Intense Football League. Brown's team will meet Corpus Christi Hammerheads Saturday night in a game that might have a little less notoriety than his biggest college games.

The excitement of competition still charges him. And he said he kept himself in shape when the indoor team called after playing competitive flag football in Austin last year.

"It's nothing to do this," Brown said. "I came up here merely for the exercise. But I ended up on a good football team who had won in the past. And we've all picked it up from there."

His biggest football memories came at Texas, where he led the Longhorns to the Big 12 championship in the conference's first title game in 1996, helping his team knock off two-time defending national champion Nebraska in the title game.

The Longhorns were three-touchdown underdogs in that game, but Brown flatly predicted the week before the game that his team would win.

They lived up to his boast in dramatic fashion. With 2:16 remaining and his team clinging to a three-point lead, Brown completed a 61-yard pass to tight end Derek Lewis for a critical first down. Priest Holmes scored on an 11-yard TD run on the next play to clinch a 37-27 victory.

Brown said he could have run for a first down on the play or also connected to another receiver before opting to take a deeper route.

"I could have thrown that ball behind my back and hit him," said Brown, who finished with 353 yards passing in the game. "The play was so wide open. I looked up and Derek was open deep. I just had to get him the ball."

That game still haunts former Nebraska defensive lineman Jason Peter, who recalls it as one of the most disappointing of his career. The Longhorns gashed the Cornhuskers for 503 yards of total offense in a convincing performance orchestrated by Brown.

"Oh God. The losses stick with me more than the wins. And that game was disappointing to say the least," Peter said. "We were more talented with that team than the 1997 team that won the national championship."

The Longhorns weren't as successful the following season. A devastating 66-3 loss to UCLA started the downslide from which the Longhorns never recovered. They finished with a 4-7 record and coach John Mackovic was fired after the season.

That turmoil caused Brown get overlooked by NFL teams, as well as his 6-foot height.

"I go to the university and now Mack Brown and those guys always have the players who have gone on to the NFL around them. Everybody is now," Brown said. "Mackovic had a fear of the NCAA getting involved with our program under the guise with the NFL guys coming around. We never talked about playing in the NFL. It was never a question back then."

The coaching change also hurt him building his awareness among NFL teams, he said.

"It was just a bad time," he said. "We didn't have weight room or facilities. The other coaches were moving out and coach Brown's staff was coming in. We didn't have a weight room or facilities. It was just messed up. Maybe I should have the year before."

Brown left school with 30 Texas school records, including career passing yards (7,638), total offense (8,049) and touchdown passes (53). But he went undrafted on draft day.

After stints in several arena leagues and leading the Frankfurt Galaxy to the 2003 NFL Europe title, Brown wanted one more shot in the NFL. No calls came and he eventually settled back in Austin, where he ran a tax and real-estate appraisal business.

When the tax season ended earlier this year, Brown found himself still wondering if he could play. When CenTex coach Chris Duliban called after two other quarterbacks left his team in late April, he decided to join the Barracudas. He hasn't lost the touch, passing for 1,597 yards and 41 touchdown passes.

"I had gotten in shape to play in the All-American Football League earlier this year," Brown said. "But when that didn't get off the ground, I went back to my business. But this is a lot of fun. We're playing for the love of the game. And it's fun to be in a familiar position of playing again."

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