Brown retires after 15 seasons with Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Troy Brown was too short and too slow. He couldn't make the big play. His NFL career was bound to be brief.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

In 15 NFL seasons, all with the New England Patriots, the eighth-round draft choice kept disproving those assumptions. Brown holds the team record for career catches -- and also returned punts and kickoffs, made interceptions and helped win three championships.

Finally, the 5-foot-10 wide receiver decided he can't keep up with younger players.

"I can't think of anything better in life to do than to enjoy a Sunday afternoon playing football," Brown said Thursday, "and now I enjoy those Sunday afternoons watching football and still saying in my head, `I can make that play.' "

But at 37, the soft-spoken Brown, who hasn't played this season, conceded, "You can't outrun Father Time," and so he announced his retirement while fighting back tears. "It's just kind of hard to let it go."

In the front row, Brown's 10-year-old son Sir'mon cried during the news conference as his mother, Kim, and 8-year-old brother SaanJay sat beside him.

Bill Belichick, the dour coach, seemed to choke up as he recalled highlights of Brown's career, some of which were shown on a screen behind Brown.

Belichick recalled Brown's 27-yard punt return to the Patriots 46-yard line in the snowy "tuck rule" playoff game on Jan. 19, 2002. That set up Adam Vinatieri's tying 45-yard field goal with 27 seconds left in the fourth quarter after an apparent fumble by Tom Brady was ruled an incompletion.

"Without the punt return to set that up and put us in field position where we could at least get in field goal range, I don't know if there ever is a kick," Belichick said.

Two weeks after that 16-13 overtime win against Oakland, the Patriots won their first Super Bowl.

Then there was Brown's 82-yard touchdown catch in overtime that beat Miami 19-13 in 2003.

"Nobody thought that Troy could go deep. Nobody thought that he could make the big plays," Belichick said. "But all he did was make plays, just kept making them."

And when the Patriots needed help in their injured secondary, Brown filled in there in 2004 and intercepted three passes after learning enough about the Patriots' complicated defense.

"I couldn't go play wide receiver," safety Rodney Harrison said.

One of Brown's proudest accomplishments is that he spent his entire career with the Patriots even though they allowed him to become an unrestricted free agent after four different seasons when he could have made more money elsewhere.

"I would give anything in the world to be able to put those pads on again and do it and I probably had the opportunity to do it, but it just wasn't the right color. I didn't think I would be in green and white," he said, an apparent reference to the New York Jets.

"The only colors you'll ever see on my back as a football player, that's the red, white and blue of the New England Patriots, and I'm proud to say that."

New England drafted Brown out of Marshall in 1993 and he holds the club record with 557 catches. He's second with 6,366 yards receiving to Stanley Morgan's 10,352. Brown played in one Pro Bowl after the 2001 season.

"I remember several times in the staff meetings we talked about getting rid of him," said Cleveland coach Romeo Crennel, the Patriots defensive coordinator from 2001-04, "but you never could."

Brown was primarily a kickoff and punt returner in his first four seasons, catching a total of 37 passes and never starting a game. In 1997, he started six games and finished with 41 receptions. He caught 83 passes in 2000, then set a single-season team record in 2001 with 101 catches. Wes Welker broke that last season with 112.

Robert Kraft bought the team one year after Brown joined it.

"Troy Brown," he said, "is the consummate Patriot."

Brown began last season on the physically unable to perform list before being activated with five games left. He was inactive for all but one, against Miami in the next-to-last game in which he fielded six punts but had no receptions and didn't play defense.

Comcast SportsNet announced Brown will join its weeknight evening New England sports show as an NFL analyst and also do features on the Patriots.

The Patriots plan to honor Brown on Nov. 13, when the Jets visit New England.

"He had such a presence in the locker room and was a great leader," quarterback Matt Cassel said. "A lot of these Super Bowl banners that are hanging up around the stadium have a lot to do with Troy Brown."

Brown thanked Belichick "for giving me that opportunity to be somebody that everybody said I wasn't going to be, and that was a starting receiver in this league."

As the news conference was ending, Brown's son Sir'mon asked the final question.

"If you love the game so much," he wanted to know, "why are you retiring?"

Brown paused, made eye contact with his son and said: "I would love to keep playing, but there comes a time when the man upstairs called God, you can't outrun him as much as you try to and want to. He just catches up to you and tells you that you're 37 years old."

Then, he told his son, "It's a sad day for me, too. I saw you out there crying for me and I love you and it's going to be OK."