A year later, Jerry Brown a reminder

IRVING, Texas -- Former Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Josh Brent's life has changed forever. Jerry Brown's life is gone.

Brent and Brown, college teammates at Illinois and the best of friends, each had lives so full of promise ahead of them. But one poor decision ended Brown's life and left Brent's life in limbo.

The one-year anniversary of Brown's death is Sunday. His daughter will know her daddy only through the words, photos and videos of others.

Brent was allegedly driving intoxicated when he was involved in a single-car accident that claimed Brown's life. Brent's trial on intoxication manslaughter is scheduled to begin in January. He could face as many as 20 years in prison.

"You just have to understand life is short, and you have to take advantage of all your opportunities and all that other stuff your parents are always preaching to you," Cowboys linebacker Bruce Carter said. "When it hits this close, it just makes it real."

Brown's death and the apparent end of Brent's NFL career -- he retired before the start of training camp this season -- should be a cautionary tale for every professional athlete.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nearly one-third (10,228) of the 32,885 people who died in car accidents in 2010 died in drunken-driving crashes. The dangers of drinking and driving are real. We can't talk about it enough as we head into the heart of the holiday season and the parties that accompany this festive time of the year.

The Cowboys had their annual Christmas party Monday, surely the first of many for most players during the next few weeks.

The NFL season and pro football stop for no one and nothing. The games must always go on.

Last season, Brent, a nose tackle, had emerged as a key member of the defensive line as nose tackle Jeremiah Ratliff's body struggled to survive the rigors of a 16-game season. He was supposed to start his sixth straight game against Cincinnati. Brown had been on the practice squad a few weeks, which meant his dream of an NFL career was still alive. They attended practice with the rest of their teammates Friday, and later that evening they partied with several teammates at a north Dallas club.

According to Irving police, Brent's car was traveling at a high rate of speed on a State Highway 114 service road before it hit the outside curb at approximately 2:30 a.m.

The car flipped at least once and skidded an estimated 900 feet before coming to rest in the middle of the service road, police said. When the police arrived, Brent was attempting to pull Brown from the wreckage.

"That was a really tough time for our team," Cowboys backup tackle Jermey Parnell said. "I don't want to comment on it because I don't want to dredge up those emotions for our team. It was really tough."

Understandable, but the best way to avoid another tragedy is to make sure the circumstances of that night are never forgotten.

Hopefully, last year's tragedy will prevent another.

Talk to enough folks at the club's Valley Ranch training complex, and they'll tell you Brown's death resonates with the players.

It's not that players have stopped partying, it's just that they don't do so quite as often, especially as a group. And when a group of 15 to 20 guys schedule an event, they're much likelier to ask the team to set up transportation.

That's progress.

A white sign with black and light blue lettering hangs at eye level at the entrance from the Cowboys' locker room to their shower. It's a daily reminder to players that they can call Uber, a mobile-phone application that connects to a car service that's endorsed by the NFL Players Association and the Cowboys.

The service will pick up players anytime and provide a free ride home. A sedan will pick up parties of three or fewer, while an SUV picks of parties of five.

The NFL and NFLPA have been touting car services for years, but the sign hasn't been as prominently displayed as it is now.

Any reminder is a good reminder. The sign keeps the service in the players' consciousness.

"We know about the dangers of drinking and driving," said linebacker Sean Lee, "but this is just another reminder about the consequences of doing it, because we lost a brother. I call a car if I have one drink and I'm out. You just can't take a chance. It's not worth it."