Cowboys players were informed of Brown’s death Saturday on their flight to Cincinnati. Brown was driving in a Mercedes early that morning with teammate and close friend, Josh Brent, when their vehicle rolled over and caught fire in Irving, Texas, the Dallas suburb where the Cowboys are based. Brent has been charged with intoxication manslaughter.
Before the game, the teams observed a moment of silence before the national anthem for Brown, who was an outside linebacker on the Dallas practice squad. Most Cowboys bowed their heads, and quarterback Tony Romo and several other players had their hands over their hearts.
Despite their heavy hearts, the Cowboys beat the Bengals 20-19 on a last-second Dan Bailey field goal. Defensive lineman Jason Hatcher held up Brown’s No. 53 jersey as emotional players and coaches were seen hugging afterward.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said the team had focused on Brown’s death in the “last few hours.”
“First of all we all know, but we remind ourselves that there is something more important than football, and this is life, and certainly the lost life of Jerry,” Jones said. “On the other hand, they know the best way they can honor Jerry, because he was such a hard worker, so conscientious and enthusiastic about his career.”
“My memory is of a big strapping guy with a bright smile on his face, bright eyes, bounce in his step every time I saw him,” Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said. “Twenty-five years old, he’s no longer with us. And that’s hard for everybody to handle.”
“I think there was a feeling of numbness out on the field today, but somehow (the players) focused … and we figured out a way to win,” said Garrett, who added that he talked with Brown’s mother after the game. “I thought we honored him as well as he could be honored.”
According to Irving Police Department, the crash occurred at 2:21 a.m. Saturday when Cowboys defensive lineman Brent was traveling at a high speed and hit a curb. The vehicle flipped at least once before landing in the center of the access road in the 1400 block of State Highway 114, about 900 feet after hitting the curb.
In an arrest affidavit released Sunday, police reported that Brent was pulling Brown from the blazing vehicle when officers arrived at the scene. The 25-year-old Brown was found unresponsive and was later pronounced dead at an Irving-area hospital.
Brown, a 6-foot-5 St. Louis native, played college football for the University of Illinois where he and Brent were teammates.
Theresa Clark of St. Louis, Brown’s grandmother, said that Brown and Brent grew close while they were teammates at the University of Illinois from 2007 to 2009.
“I’m quite sure that Jerry thought the world of him and respected that young man,” Clark said.
“He lived for football. He loved it with all of his heart.”
In March 2011, Brown joined the Jacksonville Sharks arena league team and then signed with the Canadian Football League’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats in September of that year before coming to San Antonio for the 2012 season.
“I saw right away that he could play,” Talons’ Head Coach Lee Johnson said after watching Brown play in Jacksonville. He believed Brown had the talent to succeed in the NFL but “slipped through the cracks,” partly because of his size: a little small for a defensive end but too big to be an outside linebacker.
Johnson followed Brown’s career from his high school days in St. Louis, which was also Johnson’s hometown. Brown wanted to get to the NFL, and he worked hard to do it.
“This kid just got right there, looked like he was about to get the opportunity to show the world what he can do,” Johnson said Saturday, his voice breaking. “And then something like this happens.”
“He was just an aggressive player and just a phenomenal defensive end,” said Talons’ wide receiver Robert Quiroga, who described Brown as easy going and friendly.
ESPN’s radio program “The Blitz” host Jason Minnix said Brown was a gifted athlete and also an intelligent one.
“He was a smart guy, he was funny. He wasn’t just a football guy,” he said.
“It’s tragic and sad for Jerry,” Minnix said. “It’s tragic and sad for Josh Brent.”
Brent, 24, is in his third season with the Cowboys. He appeared for arraignment Sunday morning and did not enter a plea during the brief hearing.
The charge he faces is a second-degree felony that carries a potential two- to 20-year prison sentence with a maximum $10,000 fine.
He was released from jail on $500,000 bond Sunday. He was out of the Irving City jail by 4:45 p.m. (5:45 p.m. ET).
In a statement issued through his agent Saturday night, Brent said he was “devastated” over the accident and “filled with grief for the loss of my close friend and team mate, Jerry Brown.”
“I am also grief-stricken for his family, friends and all who were blessed enough to have known him. I will live with this horrific and tragic loss every day for the rest of my life,” the statement said.
Brent pleaded guilty to a DUI charge in 2009, according to court records in Champaign, Illinois. He received a 60-day sentence, a fine and 200 hours of community service.
The Cowboys signed Brown to their practice squad Oct. 24, but he hasn’t been on the active roster. He was released from the Colts’ practice squad Oct. 20. Brown was active for one game with the Colts, a loss to the New York Jets on Oct. 14.
Brown was an expectant father said his grieving mother, Stacey Jackson of Champaign, Ill.
“I’m very excited and anxious to meet my granddaughter,” she said. “She will be here in 2 more months. She is going to be well loved.”
“I have scrapbooks and everything to show her what type of father she had.”