THE EAGLES' defense in 1991 was ranked first in the NFL across the board — total yards allowed, passing yards allowed and rushing yards allowed. That defense was the last great one with the group that Buddy Ryan had assembled. The following June, Jerome Brown died in a car accident. The following year, Reggie White left as a free agent, and the rest of the defense soon split.
Here are recollections from members of that team about what Brown's passing meant to the future of the defense. They first appeared in a story that appeared in SportsWeek last fall:
Seth Joyner: "Once Jerome died, that was the signal of the end. Because without him in the middle, it made life more difficult for Clyde and Reggie, because now you don't have a guy pushing in the middle who you have to double."
Britt Hager: "Jerome's persona was bigger than life, but he was bigger than life. When that guy got into the room, the atmosphere changed."
Eric Allen: "When Jerome passed away, you just felt like, 'Wow, we're not invincible! You really can't predict what our futures are going to be. It's life and death.' It took us a long time to understand how to come back and try to fill that friendship void. That was like a brother, not a teammate. It was very difficult for us. Because we were so tight, we tried to keep his great sense of humor alive. Whenever we traveled, we took his locker, his jersey with us. We tried everything we could do to get to the big game for him. But it came down to, we needed him. He was a huge piece of our success."
Clyde Simmons: "It made me change my approach to how I thought about football because it was a great loss to me. A dear friend and someone I was as close to as my own brother. When he died, it changed the way I approached the game. It became more businesslike than having fun."
Wes Hopkins: "I know the next year, [coach Rich Kotite] started trying to meddle with the defense, also. We were on defense thinking, 'He can't do anything on offense; why is he trying to mess with our defense?' That was the beginning of guys not wanting to be in Philadelphia anymore."
Mike Pitts: "I really felt like if Jerome was there the next season, we probably would have made it deep in the playoffs. We did get there, but we could have gotten to the Super Bowl. When he passed away, there was a lot missing."
Joyner: "I think any shot we had went down the tubes when Jerome passed away. Because then Reggie left, and we didn't have the horses to compete anymore.''