Originally created 05/11/02

Town to honor NFL standout



Travis Felder doesn't mind talking, but he has an unmistakable fear of doing it in front of hundreds of people.

That explains why Felder probably didn't get much sleep last night, why his anticipation of a day meant for celebration has been tinged with dread.

Today, the town of Blackville, S.C., will celebrate Troy Brown with a parade and other festivities. Felder is scheduled to speak tonight at the banquet in honor of his best friend, a star in the National Football League.

"I'm pretty nervous, but I've got a little cheat sheet to help me," he said.

Felder wouldn't push aside his phobia for just anyone. And the 30-year-old Brown, who is returning home after helping the New England Patriots pull off one of the more shocking upsets in Super Bowl history, is clearly not just anyone anymore.

"I'm going to tell everybody that I'm privileged that my best friend has made it big," Felder said.

FELDER AND BROWN have always chatted regularly, but doing so lately has been difficult. Brown's off-season schedule consists of more than keeping in shape and keeping up with loved ones.

When you're a key cog in an NFL team's championship run, things change.

"I used to talk to him at least once a week, sometimes twice a week," Felder said. "But now, sometimes he's a little busy. We've been playing phone tag a lot more the last few months."

Brown's sister, 19-year-old Rosalind, said the new obligations "have been tiring" on her brother.

"He's constantly on the go," she said. "It's non-stop."

Felder said Brown has been mostly unaffected by the instant celebrity that sprang from his role in the Patriots' unlikely rise. Brown hauled in a key reception that set up the game-winning field goal in New England's Super Bowl win over St. Louis, and a week earlier he returned a punt 55 yards for a touchdown to shift momentum in a victory at Pittsburgh.

"I don't see any changes in him, because we do some of the same things we did before he became a star," Felder said. "He's the same Troy I knew all the time."

BROWN'S LAST VISIT to Blackville was in February, just after his appearance in the Pro Bowl. His friends thought it would be nice to honor him, so they threw a party at a Blackville nightclub, and about 200 people showed up.

Not everyone in the small town is impressed with Brown's success. Felder says he hears comments every now and then from people who are "saying negative stuff."

"The kids love him to death, but you know how it is when you've got the grown folks," he said. "You've got the ones that are jealous of him. Some folks here love him, and some don't."

Felder has heard some complaints lately about today's festivities. Admission for tonight's banquet is $15, and proceeds will go to a scholarship fund in Brown's name.

To some, $15 is $15 too much - scholarship or no scholarship.

"Some people think he should come down and have a free party," Felder said. "They're just looking for something free."

IN 1988, WHEN Felder and Brown were helping Blackville-Hilda win a state title as wide receivers, not many people predicted Brown would someday return home wearing a Super Bowl ring.

But Felder says he saw something then, a mix of persistence and determination that would make a professional career possible.

"I kind of figured he would make it," Felder said. "I never doubted him."

It happened after two years at nondescript Lees-McRae Junior College, then two more seasons at Division I-AA Marshall. Brown attracted interest by helping the Thundering Herd win the national title and earning All-America honors as a kick returner.

There were still doubters after the Patriots took Brown in the eighth round of the 1993 NFL Draft. He was only 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds, numbers that don't usually add up to success on Sundays.

Brown was cut during the preseason in 1994, and his future appeared bleak. He worked his way back onto the Patriots roster in midseason and saw duty returning punts and covering kickoffs.

Brown didn't catch his first pass until 1995, and he spent most of the next five seasons as a backup. New England reached the Super Bowl in 1997, but Brown was confined to the sidelines with a hernia.

Before the game, which Green Bay won 35-21, Brown wept when then-coach Bill Parcells informed him he wouldn't play.

"I looked him in the eyes, and I knew and I started crying," Brown said then. "I could tell it was bothering him, too. He had someone else come and finally tell me. He knew how bad I wanted it."

BROWN BECAME THE Patriots' primary offensive threat in 2000, then he hauled in 101 passes for 1,199 yards and five touchdowns last season. He got his second chance in the Super Bowl on Feb. 3, with his family and friends watching in New Orleans. His four best friends from high school - Travis, Shawn, Tyrone and Earl - met famous rappers Snoop Dogg and Master P at the team hotel.

"I got to see a lot of stars that I thought I would never see," Felder said.

Brown's star shone brightest with 29 seconds left, after St. Louis scored a touchdown to tie it at 17. The game seemed destined for overtime, and the Rams were in position to win it after snatching the momentum.

But with the Patriots on their 41-yard line, on a play called "64-Max, All In," Brown found a small gap over the middle, and quarterback Tom Brady found him with a perfect strike.

The play gained 23 yards, and Brown fell out of bounds to stop the clock. Three plays later, Adam Vinatieri sent a 48-yard field goal through the uprights as the clock expired to give New England a breathless 20-17 triumph.

Troy's four buddies sneaked over the wall and onto the field to celebrate with the team.

"We probably weren't supposed to be there," Felder said. "Then we went into the locker room and to the press conference. We probably weren't supposed to be there, either."

Brown, his family and friends gathered in a hotel room and celebrated until 5 a.m.

WILHEMENIA BROWN DIDN'T make the trip to New Orleans because of an aversion to long trips, but she watched every minute of it on television.

"All I can tell you is, I enjoyed it," she said. "The way I was carrying on, you would have thought three or four people were in here with me. It was beautiful."

If Brown's adulthood has been about overcoming injuries and lack of size, his childhood was defined by surmounting the more-than-occasional scrape or bruise.

"He was just a little rough customer," his grandmother said. "He would have a lot of little accidents. One time he stepped on a broken jar and split his big toe. We had to rush him to the emergency room to get it stitched up. Then the next Sunday, at his mom's house, somebody broke a bottle out by the steps. He went out there and split the other big toe, so we had to take him right back."

Then there was the time Brown, then a 9-year-old, ran into a pine tree in Wilhemenia's yard and knocked himself out. Felder burst into the house frantically, looking for help.

"Travis said Troy had a mouth full of bark," Wilhemenia said. "He had a lot of little accidents like that, but he would pull through and keep going. He was always kind of a perfect child. He didn't let nothing get him down."

Not much has changed since.

Activities scheduled today in honor of Troy Brown in Blackville, S.C.:

Noon - Presentation of key to Blackville, unveiling of entrance signs, autograph and photograph session, Super Bowl football raffle, tailgate party

6 p.m. - Mayor's reception at Town Hall for family members and special guests

7 p.m. - Scholarship banquet. Cost is $15.

Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645.