Feb. 15, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Omar Brown’s somewhat improbable trip to Super Bowl XLVII found him eating a dozen oysters every day while he was in New Orleans.
To say he found it all a pearl of an experience would be an understatement.
The former Marshall star safety went from undrafted free agent signee to a preseason eye-opener for Baltimore. He landed on the Ravens’ practice squad and even got a midseason tryout with the Philadelphia Eagles before eventually being activated by Baltimore.
And once he made the 53-man active roster, Brown stayed there through three playoff rounds and the NFL title game, although he was one of eight Ravens made inactive on game days (an NFL rule) in the postseason.
He got a sack of a two-time Super Bowl-MVP quarterback, Eli Manning in Week 16, Brown’s second career NFL game. He rode the rails on the Ravens’ retirement ride of future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis. He was praised big-time by another future Hall of Famer that Brown might one day replace, safety Ed Reed.
In April, with his teammates, Brown will receive his Super Bowl championship ring. And despite his dining habits in the Big Easy – “I love those oysters there, by the way,” he said. “I’ve never been there before” -- he left hungry for more.
“I wouldn’t say it was just good enough to be there,” Brown said earlier this week, when he visited Huntington to see his brother, Herd linebacker/safety Evan McKelvey, and other friends. “I really wanted to play, but I knew I wasn’t going to play. Then you’ve got Ray Lewis, who gets you pumped to play and then you know you’re not going to play, so …
“I was most definitely excited and happy and blessed to be there, but then also gave me a feeling of like having another chip on my shoulder. The next time, I definitely want to play. I need to get back there.”
Brown, who was introduced to the Henderson Center crowd during the Rice-Herd men’s basketball game Wednesday night, was an unlikely for a Super Bowl chance – one of four ex-Herd players on active rosters for the Ravens’ win over san Francisco (only Miami, with five, had more alums on active rosters than Marshall).
He hadn’t been drafted. He didn’t make the club out of training camp. He was cut from the practice squad in Week 10 when the Ravens brought in a quarterback, Dennis Dixon, before playing the Steelers. He was brought back a week later, then activated for Week 5 because Baltimore needed special teams help.
Crazy? That was Brown’s season, even in its culmination, he said.
“Super Bowl week was crazy, really crazy,” Brown said. ‘Just after we won the (AFC title over New England) and going to the Super Bowl, for me it was like a loss for words. A feeling you’ve never had before.”
Or might not have again?
“You’re right, and you’ve got to soak it up, like ‘Aw, I’m really going to the Super Bowl.’ We got there a couple days before, to enjoy New Orleans … Got a dozen oysters every day I was there. The weather was great. I do miss the South’s weather.
“We kind of walked around Bourbon Street, actually my first time. It was wild. You see just about everything out there. You see those people all in silver like a statue, they don’t move, try to scare people. I saw one of those. It’s crazy how those people just stand there without moving at all.”
The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Brown was a three-year starter at Marshall (35 starts). A native of Moncks Corner, S.C., he made 288 career tackles, including a team-leading 113 during his All-Conference USA senior season. He was disappointed when he wasn’t drafted, but wasn’t the same when he failed to make the club despite a stat-filled preseason.
“I wouldn’t say it was disappointing,” Brown said. “After the preseason, I went in to talk to the head coach (John Harbaugh) and had a smile on face the whole time told me they let me go. I felt at the time that I did good enough for somebody else to know that, so I wasn’t really disappointed or worried, I thought I’d land somewhere. I just kept my head up.”
The Ravens kept him for the practice squad – where Brown made $5,700 weekly – but then in Week 10 he was cut … but only briefly.
“The biggest thing I learned about the NFL is it’s most definitely a business,” Brown said. “The things you cannot control, you don’t worry about it, which is the business part of it. Let your agent talk to them about it, keep your mind focused on football. You have to.
“Once I got cut, I talked to my agent and he said he’d see if any other teams were interested. He called me the next day and said the Eagles wanted me to come in for workout. They were interested in me, but for the practice squad, too. The Ravens took me back the following day, said they planned on bringing me back. I felt confident in what they told me.”
Brown played special teams in his debut game, against Denver. In the final two regular-season weeks, against the giants and Bengals, he played on defense as well. He finished the season with three tackles, including a third-quarter sack of Manning for a 9-yard loss on a third-and-10 play in a Baltimore win.
It was a start.
Reed and other Ravens noticed. The veteran safety said, “Everybody on this team knows this guy (Brown) will be around the football, and that’s what you want. He reminds me of myself when I was that age.”
Brown, 24, said sharing the ride with the emotional Lewis made the Super Bowl run even more special.
“It was great,” the former Herd star said. “You know, it’s a journey I will never forget, getting to spend my first year in the league with a great like Ray and going out with a Super Bowl and then winning it. Getting into talks with him, to practice with him, hang out with him. It’s just one of those things you just won’t forget.
“Before I met him I wondered if he was actually like that. On the field, he’s Ray Lewis. But off the field, he’s a quiet guy, doesn’t say much, jokes around, just like a normal person. He talks real low, but I think just talking to him one-on-one, you can tell he’s just a passionate guy so it’s not an act at all. It’s just that the passion in him just comes out … His speeches are unbelievable. When he speaks, it’s just different.’”
Brown said the Superdome power outage of 34 minutes during the win over the 49ers was just something else remarkable about his rookie experience, too.
“You kind of knew it would be (a momentum killer) for us, because things were definitely going our way,” he said. ‘The whole night, I’m telling my team, ‘We’re at the Super Bowl…anything can happen,’ and it did.
“Joe (Flacco) did some crazy things in the pocket I hadn’t seen him do all season, like throw on the run. So, you think anything really can happen. Then the lights go out and that kind of confirmed anything can happen. It’s just like that.”
Brown said his football experiences at Marshall in Coach Doc Holliday’s program helped him open eyes, make the practice squad, even stick with the Ravens.
“The biggest thing I learned that helped are the little things,” Brown said. “Take care of the little things, just being on time, having your notebook and knowing what you’re supposed to do, where you’re supposed to be.
“I think that was something that really caught their eye because when we were working out, I’d always be the first guy there. Be on time. The strength staff, they started noticing, and then when I would come in they were like, ‘Yup, we figured you’d be the first one in.’ Comments like that just let you know that they are paying attention to what you’re doing.
“The biggest thing you need to change from Marshall to the NFL? Well, you always need to be physical and aggressive to win at football, no matter the level. I think the biggest thing was staying prepared for when I do get my opportunity, because at Marshall I played every play since I’ve been here, and then you go to not really playing at all.
“You’ve just got to find a way to keep in shape, to keep the playbook down pat and just be ready whenever you’re called. In preseason, I was moving around a lot, different positions, so you’ve just got to know everything you can possibly know. The Ravens have a quote you hear all the time: The more you know, the more you can do.
“That’s what I tried to be, tried to do. It was a really rewarding season.”