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FORUMS | CHAT | PRINT THIS STORY

Huskers' tackling machine expects busy night

By Mike Strange, News-Sentinel sportswriter
January 1, 2000

TEMPE, Ariz. - A first-team GTE Academic All-American, Nebraska defensive back Mike Brown obviously knows how to hit the books.

But it's the hits on the football field that are of more concern to Tennessee on Sunday night in the Fiesta Bowl.

"If he misses a tackle, it is a shock," Nebraska secondary coach George Darlington said.

Darlington has the pleasure of coaching not one but two first-team All-Americans. Mike Brown, a rover (safety), and cornerback Ralph Brown - no relation - both made various All-America lists.

Ralph calls Mike his best friend and considers him an invaluable safety net.

"A lot of our coaches say if you look up the word tackling in the dictionary, his face is behind it," Ralph Brown said, "because he's a textbook tackler.

"Every time he tackles, it looks the same no matter who he's tackling. I don't know how he does it."

Matt Davison, Nebraska's leading receiver, has worked against Mike Brown on the practice field for three seasons and is something of an authority on his prowess.

"Mike Brown is the best football player I've ever played with," Davison said. "He's the total package.

"He makes you a better football player by playing against him."

Brown's reputation as a sure tackler preceded his arrival at Nebraska.

He grew up in Scottsdale, just across the river from Sun Devil Stadium and is closing out his collegiate career in the same stadium where he led Saguaro High to a 42-7 victory in the 4A state championship game in 1995.

During a morning media session at the stadium, one of the Fiesta Bowl princesses cornered her old middle-school friend for a hug and a picture.

"We played flag football and he tackled pretty hard even then," Lisa Vincijanovic said. "But he's always been a good guy and it's nice to have him back here."

It saves plane fare for his family, not that that's any obstacle. His mom Susie and stepfather Bruce Freedman, a local surgeon, have attended every Nebraska game of his career, home and away.

"It's great," Brown said, "knowing no matter how I play, I'll have somebody to hug and someone to say, 'I love you.'"

They were there in Miami with a hug at the Orange Bowl victory over Tennessee to clinch Nebraska's 1997 national championship. Brown had five unassisted tackles and broke up a Peyton Manning pass as a sophomore starter.

Brown has high praise for Manning's successor, Tee Martin.

"What he brings to the table is that when a play breaks down, he's able to create his own plays," Brown said, "and that's the most difficult quarterback you can face."

Probably sooner rather than later Sunday night, Brown (5-10, 205 pounds) will tackle Martin. He has made more tackles than any Nebraska defensive back in history. He has led the Huskers in tackles the past three years.

Based on his high school accolades, he might have been a star I-back in Nebraska's offense. No thanks, Brown would rather dish out the punishment than take it.

"At Nebraska," he said, "we're always going to be a physical football team. That's the way we practice. That's what's expected when you put on that red."

Brown predicts his last game wearing that red will be right up his alley. He is aware Tennessee took up the challenge to become more physical after the 42-17 beating the Vols took from the Huskers two years ago.

"We all understand the comments they made about us beating them up pretty bad in the second half," Brown said.

"We understand that's the way they felt they needed to play to win a national championship, and I think they did that."

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