Gilbert Brown Feature


Gilbert Brown is holding court right here, in front of his locker, saluting the very creation of something near and dear to his heart...

"Two slabs of meat," he shouts, furiously whipping his arms towards the inquirer. "Then a whole tomato, a whole onion, a half a bottle of Miracle Whip, four slices of cheese and boom! cut it in half."

A teammate reminds him that he forgot the lettuce.

"Oh yeah, a whole head of lettuce, too. But no pickles."

And this is the famed Gilbertburger?

"Yep. It tastes great -- just ask these guys."

His teammates nod in unison as they head for the showers. Then again, they know better than to argue with Brown, and not just because the mammoth Packer nose tackle is an expert on cuisine.

You won't find Brown that high on Green Bay's defensive stats lists. You won't find him on many all-pro teams. And he wasn't at the Pro Bowl in Honolulu. So why was Brown one of the most sought-after free agents on the market this past offseason?

Ask any player who has had the misfortune of lining up against him. Brown tastes like fear to every offensive lineman in the league. He commands the defensive front, the catalyst for the top-ranked Packer defense. And don't you think he doesn't know it.

"All the big guys up front do all the dirty work, that's our job," Brown says, shooting a playful glance at a passing linebacker. "To us, everybody else is a pretty boy.

"They get all the tackles, all the glamour. But we set the tone."

Brown doesn't exactly grave any glamour. He just enjoys reminding the glamour boys that without his penchant for mucking about down low, the tackles would be a tad harder to come by.

Brown's tremendous knack for disrupting the opposing offense led to a breakthrough campaign for the fifth-year pro in 1996, a year in which he established himself as the premier run-stopper in the league. And he's only 26 years old.

Brown's instant push off the snap allowed the Packer starting linebackers to finish first, third and seventh on the squad in tackles a season ago. Brown isn't exactly a slouch on the stat sheet -- he did lead his "boys" (i.e. the defensive line) with 56 tackles, 26 more than his previous season-best total. But his primary priority is clogging up the middle, drawing at least two offensive linemen to free up space for his teammates behind him.

"It is critically important to have a guy like Gilbert to push the pile backwards," Green Bay defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur says. "That reduces the angles for the offense. He's got that innate quickness to move that body in a short amount of space."

That body's actual weight remains a mystery to most in Green Bay. Estimates range from 320 to nearly 350 pounds. But Brown, a former high school sprint star, is one of the most athletic big men in the league. He doesn't think his weight affects his production on the gridiron.

"Just as long as I'm out there, working hard and doing the things I'm supposed to do, I'll be fine," he says. "If I'm overweight and can't do those things, then I'll just work even harder."

Shurmur also doesn't harp on Brown's weight.

"I keep trying to remind people that there are a lot of 300-pound guys on defensive lines in this league," Shurmur says. "But none of them are as big as Gilbert and can move like he does."

Which explains why 29 other teams were very interested in Brown after Super Bowl XXXI. Whether or not Brown would enter his fifth NFL season in Green and Gold was a hot topic in Wisconsin over the winter. His salary was $275,000 in 1996, but Brown's suitors, led by Jacksonville, offered upwards of $3 million per season. To the Packer faithful, it looked as if Gilbert was good as gone.

But a funny thing happened to Brown in his four years in Green Bay. The organization, the fans and especially his teammates grew on him. He liked it in Titletown. Playing for the reigning world champions didn't hurt matters, either.

"We've got great friendships here on this team," Brown says. "On this defense, we fight together, we love each other and I didn't want to leave that, or leave the best fans in the world. I guess if it was somebody else, they might have left. But there are more important things than a few dollars.

"It comes down to being happy or just getting a paycheck. It's fun to come to work here."

So Brown accepted a three-year deal from the Packers for about $2.75 million a year -- slightly less than the Jaguars' offer but enough to make his salary third-highest on the team behind quarterback Brett Favre and end Reggie White. Many called it the single most important move the Packers made in the offseason. Packer faithful, meanwhile, breathed a sigh of relief. Then they headed for Burger King.

Which brings us back to that burger, the most celebrated artery-clogger in the state. For the record, Brown, who started requesting the burger as an undergraduate at Kansas, does tend to exaggerate his namesake's girth. The Gilbertburger is really a Double Whopper with extra, well, extra everything. And we assume you'll have to supply your own Miracle Whip. But the Burger King on South Oneida Street -- just a deep fade pattern from Lambeau Field -- does make a darn good Gilbertburger, and a darn good killing off of it. During last year's Packer playoff run, Brown's patented patties were consumed at five times the normal Whopper rate on Oneida Street.

And, perhaps more importantly, the Gilbertburger lives up to Brown's theory on good eatin'.

"If it ain't sloppy, it ain't good."

Gilbert Brown is a little bit of the former, a lot of the latter and Green Bay is glad to have him back.

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