Gilbert Brown likes hamburgers. Not as much as he likes fried
chicken, but in Green Bay they don't make fried chicken like his
mom does, so he settles for hamburgers. But not just any burger.
If the Packers' behemoth defensive tackle is noshing on ground
beef, chances are it's a Double Whopper, topped with everything
but pickles--"I'm not a pickle guy," he says--and cut in half,
for neatness' sake.
"I've been eating that hamburger for eight years, ever since I
was in college," Brown says. "You know how you go to college and
you ain't got no money and you're sitting around starving, so
you take your two or three dollars and you try to make the best
of it? Well, I'd go to Burger King and pile all that stuff on
it, take the pickles off, cut it in half, and then I'd be
Brown's grubbing has put many a BK manager's child through
college. Since his days as a 315-pound undergrad at Kansas, he
has added about 45 pounds to his 6'3" frame, most of the weight
coming by means of the patty. He consumed so many of the
customized Double Whoppers last season that Burger Kings in the
region marketed the bovine concoction as the Gilbert Burger.
Within days, waists all over Titletown were expanding. During
the playoffs, the Burger King on Oneida Drive, just a mile from
Lambeau Field, sold 150 of the burgers a day, five times the
usual volume of Double Whoppers.
Though Brown's size (he has a 24-inch neck, wears a size 66
jacket and is built like something you have to defrost every few
months) and feats as a trencherman have made him a local
celebrity, this guy is no Chris Farley. Defensive coordinator
Fritz Shurmur says Brown is as powerful as any player in the
league, thanks to the fact that he can get his bulk moving in a
hurry; in an April 1996 minicamp he ran the 40 in 5.07 seconds,
a time that gives quarterbacks throughout the league cold
sweats. Sprinting is nothing new to Brown. At Detroit's
MacKenzie High, in addition to throwing the shot and the discus,
he ran the 100- and 200-meter dashes, and he even won a race.
"Yeah, the guy ahead of me fell down or grabbed a drink or
something," he says.
On the field, Brown's agility comes in handy--at times last year
Shurmur had Brown drop into coverage on a zone blitz--but his
size is his greatest asset. "There are a lot of 305-pound
linemen," Shurmur says. "What he carries makes him unique."
As he stands now, Brown is simply too much for any one man to
handle. Should an opposing team commit two players to Brown, it
runs the risk of being burned by other Green Bay marauders such
as Santana Dotson or Reggie White. Brown finished last season
with 52 tackles and one sack--good numbers, not great--but his
contributions were not always quantifiable.
"Gilbert should be our MVP," said Packers safety Eugene Robinson
before the Super Bowl. "He is totally unselfish, and he breaks a
team down all by himself." As if to prove Robinson's point,
Brown went out and registered just three solo tackles in Super
Bowl XXXI but clogged the middle so effectively that New England
was never able to establish its running game. The Patriots
finished with a meager 43 yards on the ground.
Teammates and coaches were not always happy to see so much of
Brown. He was drafted in the third round by Minnesota in 1993
but didn't survive his first training camp with the Vikings, who
waived Brown after a defensive coach said that the tackle was
likely to eat his way out of the game. But before Brown could
get back to the hotel to pack his bag, the Packers had claimed
The trip from Minneapolis to Green Bay gave Brown time to
examine his situation. "It was a long drive, so I had a chance
to think about what I had to do to turn it around," he says. "I
just thought about loving football again. When I was in
Minnesota, it just didn't click. I don't know if it was the
purple or if it was my coach or what." Brown also realizes that
he put himself in a hole by showing up out of shape. "[Getting
cut] wasn't a big surprise because I messed up myself. I didn't
work hard, I didn't train."
With the Packers, Brown performed well in practice as a rookie,
but he barely cracked the lineup, playing in just two games and
finding himself riddled with self-doubt. So every Monday during
the season he would go to meetings and watch film in the
afternoon, then hop in his car and drive eight hours back to
Detroit. "I'm kind of a mama's boy," he says. "I would drive
home just so I could see her. I didn't really know what was
going on, and I needed somebody to get me going."
The jump-start worked. In his second year, Brown became a solid
contributor. He played in 13 games before tearing his ACL. In
'95, his third year, he again played in 13 games before
succumbing to an injury, this time a sprained ligament in his
left elbow. Last year he stayed healthy and enjoyed a season
that made him the cream of the free-agent defensive lineman
crop. Jacksonville made a strong run at him, proposing $3
million per year for three years, but Brown opted to stay in
Green Bay for some $330,000 less per year.
"My mom had an effect on me," says Brown. "She said, 'Don't be
calling me crying if you make the wrong decision. Make sure
you're happy in what you do.'" Brown was further influenced by
another female. While signing autographs at a shopping mall near
Green Bay after the Super Bowl, he was approached by a young
girl who begged him to stay. The tear rolling down her cheek
sealed the deal. "The primary reason I stayed is that it's a
great place to play," he says. "Most of the time you want to
come to work because it's a fun atmosphere. The fans just love
football. It's everything around here."
Staying in Green Bay also made it easier for Brown to spend time
with his son. Four-year-old Jamal lives with his mother in
Kansas City, Mo., which is close enough to Green Bay to allow
Brown to see him two or three times a month. When they are
together, Gilbert and Jamal do what most fathers and their
four-year-old sons do. They play ball, they wrestle (don't
worry--young Jamal already tips the scales at 50 pounds) and
they watch a lot of cartoons. But their favorite activity?
Sharing a Gilbert Burger.
"We both love to eat, so we'll eat more than doing anything
else," he says. "The first couple of times I gave my son a
hamburger, he'd eat it. Then the fourth or fifth time--and I
hadn't said anything about it--he opened up his bun and took the
pickles off. He said, 'I don't like those things.'" His dad
could only laugh. Gilbert Brown knows what it's like to not be a
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID STLUKA/NFL PHOTOS The burger-loving defensive giant turned down bigger money to stay in Green Bay. [Gilbert Brown]
COLOR PHOTO: TOM LYNN/MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINELStunningly fast for his size, Brown is fearsome when he gets up a head of steam, even at the expense of his own helmet. [Gilbert Brown in game without helmet]