With eight years of professional football under his belt, former Florida Gators defensive end Alex Brown is moving on from the Chicago Bears to the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints. In a brand new city with an upbeat and positive mindset, Brown landed in Louisiana on Wednesday to start preparing for training camp. The first thing he did after touching down? Provide OGGOA with an exclusive half-hour interview covering everything from his recruitment and time with the Gators to the Bears’ Super Bowl run and why grits are his favorite thing about the city of New Orleans, LA (so far).
ADAM SILVERSTEIN: Growing up in a small town, was it difficult to get noticed by the University of Florida and make an impression on head coach Steve Spurrier?
ALEX BROWN: “Yeah, it was. I just wanted to go and play football – that’s all I did. I was nervous because I didn’t know if people would see me. My dad was really good just staying on me about it. ‘If you go play, if you’re good enough, they’ll find you.’ That was his big thing. All I did was go play – and they found me.”
AS: What made you decide to attend Florida rather than going to Georgia or another school? Were you always a Gators fan?
AB: “I actually was not a Florida fan at all. I really wasn’t even going to take a visit to Florida. University of Miami – that year – my last visit I was going to take was going to be to the University of Miami. And I was going to choose between Miami, Florida State, North Carolina and Auburn. There was a kid that got killed at Miami – I want to say it was like on a Monday or Tuesday – and I was supposed to go on a visit that coming weekend. And my mom was like, ‘No way, you can’t go. You can’t do it.’ I was like, ‘Alright, I guess I will not take another visit.’ I talked to [Buffalo Bills linebacker] Andra Davis, who I’ve known since like fifth grade, and he had just taken his visit to Florida and that was the celebration of the National Championship – that was that week. He had a great time. So I talked to him and he said he was going to Florida. He’s like, ‘Just take your visit there, you’re not going to go to Miami, so take your visit to Florida.’ Early in the week, I called coach [Jimmy Ray] Stephens, he was the offensive line coach at the time and the guy that recruited me. He said, ‘OK.’ I was in Gainesville for a day. [Atlanta Falcons LB] Mike Peterson was my host and, by the time I left, they could have left me there. I was going for sure. As soon as I got back, I started calling all the other coaches and letting them know that this is what I want. It wasn’t too far from home but far enough away, I guess. And they were good. I played linebacker, and they had [former DE] Jevon Kearse, Mike Peterson and [former LB] Johnny Rutledge – and I thought I fit right in. It was a great match for me and took me all of a day-and-a-half to figure that out.
Read the rest of our exclusive interview with Alex Brown…after the break!
AS: You had a lot of outstanding games with the Gators, but I’m sure you remember sacking Tee Martin five times in 1999…did the offense just give up trying to stop you?
AB: “You know what, [Tennessee offensive tackle] Chad Clifton plays for the Green Bay Packers now, and I’ve been going against him twice a year for the last eight years. He still swears that I was offsides [on those plays]. He still says I was offsides – no way I can be that fast off the ball. I don’t know, I found a flaw and made sure it was working and staying true throughout the game. If you find an advantage, then use it. The crowd was unbelievable. As soon as they said go, I was rolling. That night I believed exactly what I saw. For some reason, I was rewarded.”
AS: Is that the game you remember the most, or is there another? Does any one play stand out to you that you made?
AB: “Well, the SEC Championship was my most memorable moment as far as happy times. My last game at Florida Field I’ll never forget. Losing at Tennessee – that game obviously was personal.”
AS: In 2001 you were a first-team All-American and SEC Defensive Player of the Year. Were you surprised that you were not drafted higher than the fourth round?
AB: “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t surprised. After the first day [of the draft], all I wanted to do was get picked up. I knew inside that I could play the game. When [owner Jerry] Angelos called me from the Bears and said they were going to get me if I was still there…the moment I wasn’t as happy as I thought I would be…because I was so disappointed. Looking back at it, I was happy to be picked and just wanted to play football so I could prove him right. It was just one of those things – it gave me a chip that never left me. I could not believe [teams] believed there were 10 other defensive ends out there better than me. At this point in time in my career, there are only [Chicago’s Julius] Peppers and [Indianapolis Colts‘] Dwight Freeney left from that draft.”
AS: Since joining the NFL, you have put down a lot of quarterbacks in eight years. Has any one sack or play stood out to you?
AB: “In 2008, I blocked a field goal against Green Bay to send the game into overtime. We won [20-17] and it kept our playoff hopes alive. Obviously the 2006 year, making it into the Super Bowl was by far…winning the NFC Championship is the highest level for football after that. Being there Super Bowl Sunday and seeing all the flashbulbs go off on the kickoff and watching [wide receiver Devin] Hester run it back – unbelievable. 2006 was THE best year, football-wise for me, in my life. It was unbelievable. Individual plays….probably the Green Bay one, my first sack against [the New England Patriots‘] Tom Brady – that feeling was like, ‘Wow, I got Tom Brady.’ Sacking [the Minnesota Vikings‘] Brett Favre is pretty intense.”
AS: You also have a habit of doing the Gator Chomp every time you nail a QB or make a big play. How did you decide to do that in the first place, and do you wish more guys represented the school like that?
AB: “Oh yeah. Not if they don’t want to. We have guys that believe once college is over, college is over. I truly believe – and it holds true all the time – that NFL teams can change. Where you went to college will never change. Now I’m playing for the Saints; now I’m rooting for the Saints. I didn’t envision myself a couple of years ago saying ‘Who Dat?’ and things like that and being down in New Orleans and getting ready to play with [QB] Drew Brees rather than try to prepare to play against him. That happens. Teams change, teams move on, they go in a different direction. If you want, you go and play somewhere else where somebody wants you. That being said, the Florida Gators will never change for me. That page in my life has been told and stamped. So it will never change. My wife and I both went there. I want to show people that I love it, and I don’t care who gets mad. And now I’m down here in LSU country, and they’re gonna really really dislike it. But hey, sorry. It’s just me. If more guys would do it, great, yeah, I’d love it. It would be a cool thing to see all the Gators do it. I actually started doing it because [former safety] Mike Brown…there were times during the 2004-05 season, Mike Brown would come up as soon as I’d make a play and he’d be doing it. He’d be doing the Gator Chomp. And he’d be like, ‘Come on, you gotta do it!’ So from now on, I said I was just going to do it. Now I do it all the time.”
AS: You were one of the first guys to welcome Julius Peppers to the Bears after he was signed back in March…only to have Chicago dismiss you soon after. You’ve been there since 2002. What did it feel like having to leave?
AB: “It was tough. The first hour or so you’re like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe this is happening.’ I’m over that now. I’m actually going to put on a different helmet – it’s kind of weird. You get over it. You understand that it happens. For the most part, it happens to just about everybody. There is a very, very small group that play their entire career…if you play 8, 9, 10+ years, you’re probably not going to play with the same team all those years. It’s just one of those things that happens. Once you get over that, it’s not that big of a deal.”
AS: Now you are starting a brand new two-year deal with the Saints. How did it feel to be sought after by the defending Super Bowl champions?
AB: “When you’re cut, a lot of teams go through your head. ‘Why don’t they want me? Do they not believe I can play? Can I start here, and contribute on this defense?’ Then you have a team like the Saints, who come off their Super Bowl year and everybody’s super exited. And this super bowl team believes that you can make them better. That just gives you a little bit of confidence, gives you that thought that you can make them better. That was great for me. I want to win. That is my goal. That is the top priority. I want to win. Coming out here and playing with a team that puts up 30 points a game, that gives you a lot of opportunities to rush the quarterback. Kind of reminds me back when coach Spurrier was calling the plays…now it’s coach [Sean] Payton. I’m really excited. Paying indoors – don’t have to worry about two degrees – it’s just a different environment, it’s going to be completely different. I’m going to embrace this opportunity.
AS: Do you feel that the team is still hungry?
AB: “Absolutely. It’s not just the team – the owners, the coaches. I’ll put it like this: When I was with the bears in 2006 and we came back the next year in 2007, we lost about 15-18 players from that 2006 team. This team here has lost I think three players – [LB] Scott Fujita, [DE] Charles Grant (who did not play in the playoffs), [right tackle] Jammal Brown (who did not play the entire season – so I don’t think we should count him), and Bobby McCray – who they just released who played a significant part in the run to the Super Bowl last year. And then they add a couple players. Myself, I believe I can help the team. [DE Jimmy] Wilkerson, [Clint] Ingram at linebacker, a couple guys in the draft – the rookie [cornerback Patrick Robinson] from Florida State, I think he’s gonna help, he’s a very, very good talent. And they have a bunch of young guys around here. I’m almost one of the old guys. I really am one of the old guys around here. Everybody’s young. Everybody believes that this is how it’s supposed to be. When you get that belief, and you not only hope but expect to win on Sundays, more than likely you’re going to come out on top. And that’s how it is around here. Everybody is focused on doing just that – repeating. Taking our window of opportunity and making the best out of it. I’m excited to be here, I’m excited to be on board.”
AS: Similar to the Peppers situation in Chicago, bringing you into the fold meant New Orleans had to make some changes…and unfortunately that meant Bobby McCray was out the door. What is your relationship like and how hard of a hit was that?
AB: “I don’t want to talk too much about that…I don’t want to say anything that’s going to offend Bobby. But it’s competition – that’s how it is, that’s how the league works. The New Orleans Saints believe that I give them the best opportunity to win. That’s as far as I’ll go with that. Bobby and I are good friends, but it’s just one of those things that is going to happen. It’s really weird actually when it’s a buddy of yours. Its one position and one of you probably is going to have to leave. We both understand this is a business. We both have families, and we want to take care of our families. All we can do is get on the field and play football. I know Bobby well – I know he is going to pick up somewhere and hopefully have a phenomenal year.”
[NOTE: One day after this interview, McCray re-signed with the Saints.]
AS: Were you two close during the overlapping years at Florida?
AB: “Bobby and I played a few years together at Florida. He comes over to the house. He is one of the guys, when I had my son on September 27 – days before we played Mississippi State and crushed them – he was one of the guys who was there. He came by and visited my wife now – girlfriend then – he’s one of the guys who came out. He’s a good, good friend of mine. And I’ve followed him throughout his career to Jacksonville and here with the Saints. Watching him go through the playoffs was amazing. Watching him go in and beat the team that we actually lost to in the Super Bowl was amazing. When you have a buddy who goes through that, and you know exactly what he’s going through, you get to a point where I haven’t been…and that’s on top. You want to sit down and kind of pick his brain and see how it was. I can only imagine it’s an amazing feeling.”
AS: One thing I forgot to ask you earlier…what goes on in the locker room and with other players when your college team is winning like the Gators have been recently? Do you brag a lot, wear a ton of Florida gear?
AB: “I never shut up. When we’re winning, when we’re not winning, it doesn’t even matter. I’m not going to stop talking. That 2006 season – we won basketball and football and then we went to the Super Bowl – I just didn’t stop. People got tired of me. I wore Gator stuff almost every day. Gator basketball then Gator football. We had five Gators in the Super Bowl – it was unbelievable. Just on our team. I’m always walking with a certain type of swagger, if you would, when it comes to the Gators. I really love my team. I’m very proud, and I’m not backing down. I think we’re better than anybody. That’s just me. I’ve heard plenty of times, ‘Why [are] you guys so passionate about your school?’ I have no idea – we just are. I’ve seen Ohio State fans like that – not all of them, not as many as Florida. You meet people, you’re from Florida, you sit there and talk to somebody just because you went to the same school. You’ll sit there and talk for 10 minutes. It’s just a big family, that’s what it is. When we’re winning, you are sure to hear about it throughout the locker room and throughout the entire facility. Everybody hears about it.
AS: While you have lived in Jasper, FL, Gainesville, FL, and Chicago, IL, New Orleans is your new home. Now that you have spent some time there…what is your favorite thing about the city so far?
AB: “There’s a lot of different food. But I guess my favorite thing is that they do sell grits wherever the breakfast places are! Because in Chicago, you didn’t get that. The grits came back! I can actually go and get grits somewhere, and it’s not Cream of Wheat or something like that. I’m pretty sure I’ll find other things that catch my eye and are really cool, but I haven’t been to any festivals yet. I’m pretty sure my wife and I will get to those over the next few years and have more stories to tell and things I like about the city. As for right now, just the reception of being invited into the Who Dat? Nation is great. The fans are unbelievable. You would be surprised how many people…I go to Wal-Mar tor Win-Dixie or something and people already know me and say they’re happy I’m here. Makes you feel good, makes you want to go work, you know?”