Morgan's mark within Brown's grasp

By Mike Reiss
Globe Staff / September 22, 2006

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FOXBOROUGH -- The two most productive receivers in Patriots history connected with each other unexpectedly this offseason.

Troy Brown was in Memphis with his 8-year-old son's AAU basketball team for a tournament, browsing through a local store, when a fellow shopper stopped him. Brown wasn't quite sure what to make of the situation when the stranger started dialing his cellphone and then handed it to Brown.

``Hello," Brown said.

``Hello," the voice on the other end of the line replied.

``Who's this?"

``It's Stanley Morgan."

It was a nice hookup, which, of course, is nothing new to Morgan and Brown. When he played for the Patriots from 1977-89, Morgan totaled 534 receptions for 10,352 yards (19.4 average). The 534 catches remain a team record, although probably not for long. That's because the ageless Brown, now in his 14th season, is closing fast. He has 520 catches entering Sunday night's game against the Broncos.

Morgan and Brown have known each other for years, although neither expected to be speaking to each other on that particular day this past offseason. Turns out the stranger in the store had recognized Brown, and was also good friends with Morgan.

``It's a small world," said the 35-year-old Brown. ``Stanley wished me luck on the season and we talked about both of us being South Carolina kids, just small chitchat type of stuff. As for his record and possibly breaking it, I'm not even concerned about it."

In typical fashion, Brown actually seemed more concerned with touting Morgan for some national recognition.

``It surprises me that he's not at least getting consideration for the Hall of Fame," he said. ``You look at his numbers, what he put up, and they're outstanding. Then you compare them to other guys, someone like [Hall of Famer] Lynn Swann, and he didn't catch a ton of balls [336].

``Stanley had great numbers, and the catches he made were great. When you can post more than an 18-yard average throughout a long career, that's hard to do. I think he's at least deserving of Hall of Fame consideration. He was a phenomenal guy who could stretch the field."

Brown, of course, hasn't been too shabby, either. And this year, at a time when many 14-year veterans usually see their roles decrease, Brown's seems to be expanding -- and it's not because he's playing defensive back. In addition to being the team's emergency third quarterback this year, Brown also has become Tom Brady's security blanket on the outside, playing consistently in two-receiver sets for the first time in a few years.

Brown led the team with four catches for 51 yards in last Sunday's victory over the Jets, coming up with a key third-down conversion on the team's final drive. He added two receptions for 18 yards and one touchdown in the season-opening win over the Bills.

Brady has acknowledged that he's looking to Brown more often, which is partially a result of the familiarity they have with each other from playing together the last five-plus seasons. It's a role Brown is relishing.

``I really get up for the challenges," he said. ``You hear some of the comments people say -- `You can't do this, you can't do that' or `I'd rather have so-and-so at cornerback than Troy Brown' -- and that makes me push myself a little harder. They might be saying, `He's not going to be able to hold up at receiver this year,' and that motivates me even more."

Naturally, part of the motivation this season is hearing talk about the Patriots' depleted receiver corps in the wake of the departures of Deion Branch and David Givens. Brown had developed a close friendship with Branch, and was sad to see him go.

``Having to come back and start over, being the only receiver left over from the crew last year, it's been a little different," said Brown, who had a career-high 101 catches in 2001 and is coming off a 39-catch year in 2005. ``The first thing is having to learn a whole new group of guys, but I've learned to adapt to different people over 14 years. As long as the attitude is great and in the right place, I don't mind working with you.

``You just have to get out there, and start working. I've been lucky to work with a lot of guys, especially with this unit, that have good attitudes. You don't always get that. It would be tough for me to come back here every year if you had a bunch of guys who didn't respect the game, and didn't respect what they were doing with other people around them. This year, it's been great."

Brown still keeps in touch with many of his former teammates from each part of his career, from Ray Crittenden (1993-94), to Hason Graham (1995-96), to Shawn Jefferson (1996-99), to Branch (2001-05).

``That's how I like things to be; I check on them once in a while, they check on me," he said. ``You develop a friendship with them and those last forever."

Then there are other players Brown watches from afar with great respect, such as 36-year-old Broncos receiver Rod Smith.

``Rod was in a situation like myself -- I was a late-round draft pick [eighth round], he wasn't drafted," said Brown, who entered the league in 1993. ``But he just kept plugging away at it. I always thought he was a great receiver, with great hands; he's smart, knows how to get open and create separation. He's a guy who just continues to make plays over and over, every year.

``I'm sure people write him off every year, too, but he just keeps coming back and seems like he's getting stronger and stronger. It's guys like that I really look up to, and I really watch."

There is one other thing Brown appreciates about Smith, and it's something they have in common: playing their entire careers with one team. Brown laments the fact that players often don't finish their careers with the team in which they came into the league. It's yet another way in which Brown has distinguished himself in New England, as he's the only player on the roster to arrive before the Kraft family purchased the team in 1994.

Now he's on the cusp of Morgan's team record, and motivated by those who say he should be slowing down.

``This is what I love to do," Brown said. ``And I feel like I can contribute something to help this team win some games."

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