Mike Brown won a state championship when he was a star running back and safety at Saguaro High School. He won a national championship at Nebraska.
In 2001, his play — including back-to-back overtime interception returns for touchdowns, an NFL record — helped the Chicago Bears to a 13-3 record and a division title in just his second NFL season.
Perhaps that is why Brown has been virtually silent in speaking to the media since the season began. Never one to say much anyway, the safety has struggled all season while the Bears have stumbled to a 4-7 start.
Brown has had instances of being bowled over by Minnesota’s Moe Williams and Green Bay’s Ahman Green when trying to make a tackle during key moments. He has been juked badly by St. Louis’ Marshall Faulk and Seattle’s Shaun Alexander. He hasn’t been the playmaker on defense the Bears were counting on after giving him a five-year, $17.5 million contract extension this past offseason, locking him up through 2008.
Then again, no one on the Bears defense, other than rookie cornerback Charles Tillman, is having a year to remember.
“Mike is really an outstanding football player,” Bears coach Dick Jauron said. “Great leadership. Great toughness on the field. He played a strong game (last week in a win) in Denver. Mike’s one of our true team leaders.”
Brown will be on display for fans in the Valley on Sunday when the Cardinals visit Chicago. The last time the two teams played during the regular season, Brown’s Bears won, but Brown had a memorable play when then-rookie guard Leonard Davis picked Brown up and tossed him like a rag doll.
Two rookies — Tillman and Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin — will be ones to watch Sunday.
“That is a good matchup,” Cardinals coach Dave McGinnis said. “Tillman coming out (of Louisiana-Lafayette) had some special qualities, a little raw, but you could see he could be a good player. He’s proven that. Of course, I can expound (forever) on Anquan Boldin.”
Boldin has 66 catches for 999 yards. Tillman has been touted by teammate Bryan Urlacher for defensive rookie of the year.
“(Boldin) is feeling good about himself, I am feeling good about myself,” Tillman told the Chicago Tribune. “I think we’re a lot alike.”
Running back Marcel Shipp returned to practice Friday and will be fine Sunday, but cornerback Renaldo Hill still was out with his sprained ankle. McGinnis said Hill will go on the trip and test his ankle Sunday before a decision is made whether he will play, although Hill said he was still very sore Friday.
As for who will replace Hill if he can’t play, McGinnis declined to say.
“I’m not going to tell you because Dick Jauron wouldn’t tell me who their quarterback was,” McGinnis said with a smile. Coby Rhinehart and Emmanuel McDaniel are the remaining possibilities. Jason Goss was just activated from the practice squad.
The Bears weren’t sure if Chris Chandler (shoulder) would be able to play quarterback Sunday, so the Cards had to prepare for Chandler and Kordell Stewart. Jauron announced Friday that Stewart would get the start, with rookie Rex Grossman as backup.
The Cardinals were about 45 minutes later ending practice Friday, in part to make up for missed film work because of an early day on Thanksgiving and in part because of extra reps preparing for Chandler and Stewart.