In a world of Eagles fans, Joe Brown stood out for his passion and devotion to his favorite football team. Brown, who passed away on Sunday at the age of 62, became part of the Eagles family, taking that unusual step across the line at practice.
Brown began his daily allegiance to the Eagles in 1975 when he attended training camp at Lehigh University, and he was hooked. From then through the 2011 training camp, he made the trek to practice, taking his annual vacation and spending it on the sidelines watching Eagles practice, chatting with reporters, saying hello to every player and every coach.
In 1988, the story goes, then-head coach Buddy Ryan took notice of Brown and invited him to watch practices from the sidelines, and from that point on every Eagles coach did the same thing. It was one of the early understandings of the job: Make sure to take care of "Eagle" Joe Brown.
And the Eagles did just that, year after year, decade after decade. In 2008, when a degenerative eye condition robbed Brown of much of his vision, the Eagles arranged for him to attend training camp at Lehigh as they sent a limousine service to his home in Exton, PA to provide transportation.
Dressed head to toe in Eagles gear with a camera over his shoulder, Brown stood at practice taking in the action, weathering the heat, loving the action.
He was in his element.
The news of Brown's passing saddens everyone. A fan icon has passed, far too soon. These last several months were unkind to Brown, who suffered from kidney failure in addition to his eye condition. An uphill battle ended with sadness.
There are many, many great Eagles fans I've encountered over the years. Brown loved the Eagles with a deep passion, but it is a slight to other wonderful fans to suggest Brown's love was greater than others. Love is love, Eagles style.
What made Brown unique was his approach to his passion. He never asked for anything. He never abused the privilege of his special access. Even with his health faltering over the years and the scope of his vision narrowing, he came to training camp with a smile, making sure to get himself an Eagles cheerleader calendar or six and proceed to the sidelines to soak in the action.
"Eagle" Joe Brown happened to be a cousin of mine, so the pain of his loss runs deeper here. He was an extremely kind man with nary a bad word to say about anyone. He always asked about the family and others and sincerely cared for others' well being. He always came armed with a corny joke or two and whether it was funny or not, there was always a laugh to be had.
Brown was not a complicated man. He loved sports, the Eagles especially. Brown was a fixture at Eagles home games until his eyesight diminished and he was always able to work himself down to the front rows near the players' tunnel just to have the chance to yell out words of encouragement to the players and coaches before kickoff.
Word spread quickly of Brown's death. "RIP 'Eagle Joe' Brown #salute!" tweeted linebacker Jamar Chaney when he heard. Head coach Andy Reid was genuinely saddened, deeply so. Every corner of the NovaCare Complex knew of Brown, had met him and remembers him fondly.
I remember back in the early part of the 2000's the league had a deal with VISA to establish a "Hall of Fans" in Canton, Ohio. Each team was to nominate a fan, and in the meetings we had it was a unanimous decision to send "Eagle" Joe's name in for consideration. In 2001, Joe Brown was introduced as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the honor of his life.
See, Joe never did it for the fame or the attention, although he got plenty of the latter in recent years as the media searched him out. He did it because he loved the Eagles, just as you love the Eagles. He did it because one day a friend asked him to go to training camp at Widener and he became hooked on the team.
Even as he was suffering in the hospital, Joe wanted to talk Eagles. He had his opinions and he had his suggested path to success for the team. He loved the draft class and, of course, he had the utmost faith in Reid and the front office.
"Eagle" Joe Brown created something unique, something that will live longer than all of us. He transcended the divide between fans and an NFL team with his own style: Unassuming, humble and loving. His is a presence that will be sorely missed in every way.