In our final piece looking back at the mighty Blackshirts we may have saved the best for last. A couple of years ago we ran a piece examining who could be called the best Husker of all time. We started with a fairly inclusive list and narrowed the candidates down. But the glaring omission from that list was Mike Brown, and the BRN readers called us on it.
And with good reason. Brown’s was a defensive back who moved from cornerback to safety and yet his tackle numbers would make a linebacker jealous. After appearing in 11 games of mostly spot duty as a true freshman, he started every game of the 1997 national championship season at safety and racked up 77 tackles to go with a pair of interceptions. He earned second-team all-conference honors that season.
As a junior, he racked up 102 tackles which is a record for a defensive back at Nebraska. He had 19 tackles that year in a narrow loss to Texas and 13 in the narrow loss to Arizona. For a second straight year he was named second-team all-conference.
In 1999, he took his game to a whole new level. Despite weighing in at only 205 lbs., his jarring hits caused 6 fumbles that year. As a captain, he led by example and earned Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week honors three times. He was the rare player that could take over a game from the safety position. In fact, the game against #21 Texas A&M that year is simply remembered as “the Mike Brown game”. Brown picked off two passes, forced two fumbles, had a sack and another tackle for loss (8 tackles in total) and broke up another pass. After the game Charlie McBride likened Brown to a heat-seeking missile. The game was an important turning point for a Husker team that feared its season might be slipping away. After a loss in Austin and a close call in Lawrence, NU overcame a slow start (thanks to Brown) to embarrass a ranked team.
From that point forward the team got on a roll collecting impressive wins over #5 Kansas State, pitched a defensive shutout in the Big 12 title game against #12 Texas, and beat defending national champion and sixth-ranked Tennessee in the Orange Bowl. Brown was named both a first-team All-American and first-team Academic All-American. He was then drafted in the second round of the NFL draft by the Chicago Bears and became a fan-favorite due to his knack for converting turnovers into timely touchdowns as he did seven times in his career. He was named All-Pro in 2001 and to the Pro Bowl in 2005.
No matter how well Marvin Sanders or Bo Pelini coach defense or the staff recruits, we may never see another Blackshirt as good as Brown.