Arthur Brown is asking a question, standing in the living room of his parents’ home on the east side of Wichita and watching the first round of the NFL Draft.
It is likely one of three teams will pick him — the Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos or Baltimore Ravens. More likely Chicago and Baltimore because they need middle linebackers. Probably not in the first round, either. Maybe in the last few picks, but the second round seems like a safer bet.
He shakes his head in disbelief. A slow smile creeps across his face.
“Man. I’d be happy to play for any of those teams.”
Chicago or Denver would be great landing spots, everyone agrees. Nobody wants to talk about Baltimore, though. It’d be like going and talking to a pitcher with one inning left in a no-hitter.
Don’t even mention it.
This day has been on the horizon since his senior season ended, with a loss to Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl in January. He’s got the size — 6-foot and 240 pounds — and the sideline-to-sideline speed that NFL teams are desperate for.
It also doesn’t hurt that he’s a winner. In the two seasons he played for Kansas State after transferring from the University of Miami, the East High graduate had 201 tackles and capped his career by helping lead K-State to its first Big 12 title since 2003.
One of his less sports-savvy aunts, Fonda, comes over to him with a few picks left in the first round and tells him she has to leave. Brown gets up out of his chair and hugs her. She cups his face with her hands.
“Did you win, baby?”
Brown and everyone else in the room laughs. He is nice about it.
Someone tells her it’s not a game, that a team is going to pick him to go play in games.
“Oh!” Fonda says. “Well, baby, whoever picks you is going to get a good boy. A good boy with a good heart, you hear me? Then that team is gonna win the games, OK?”
“You know it,” he says.
She kisses him on the cheek and leaves.
Less than a day later, he gets a call from the Baltimore Ravens. They take him with the 56th pick, middle of the second round. His mother, Lelonnie, does what any sane mother would do if your son became an instant millionare — she goes nuts. She hugs Arthur and doesn’t let go, hopping up and down, to his delight. Though his face is buried deep in her shoulder and her hair, you can hear the deep, bellowing laughter coming from him.
Arthur reaches out and pulls his father, Arthur Brown Sr., in for a group hug. Within seconds, Brian Butler walks up to Brown and hands him a cell phone.
“It’s Bryce,” Butler says.
Brown takes the phone.
It’s a two-hour drive from Baltimore to Philadelphia. You can make it there in less if traffic isn’t too bad.
This is convenient because Brown’s younger brother — Bryce, on the phone with him now — just finished his rookie season at running back for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Having family around, to finally be able to be so close to each other again, is a dream come true for the brothers. Especially now, because their family is expanding — Bryce and his wife, Morgan, were married earlier this year and are expecting a baby at the end of October.
Right in the middle of football season.
Less than a month later, Arthur signs his first rookie contract — $3.554 million dollars for four years, with a $964,896 signing bonus.
Butler is running about 30 minutes late, which isn’t entirely unusual. He’s a busy man. Lots of kids of his own, plus kids he treats like his own, helping train them through his company, Potential Players.
When he arrives, still sweating and in workout gear, he sits down on a patio at a west-side restaurant. He’s in a good mood, laughing, talking on the phone and greeting people who recognize him and come by to say hello.
“I’m telling you, I can recognize a player in the first ... 30 seconds I talk to the kid,” Butler said. “Heck, I don’t even really need to talk to them. I can just see. By their body language. I just know if they’re any good. Never fails.”
Butler always knew the Browns were players. And he stuck with them when the chips were down. When Arthur left Miami after the 2009 season and speculation was rampant about where he might transfer, Butler protected him. He helped him get a car. He helped him find a landing spot at K-State.
But when Bryce flamed out at K-State early in the 2011 season — after a similar implosion at Tennessee that led to him leaving the team there after one season — Butler decided it was time for his version of tough love.
After Bryce quit, he went to visit Morgan, then his girlfriend, at her home in Tennessee. When he flew back to Wichita, Butler was the one who picked him up at the airport.
“We didn’t talk,” Butler said. “I just drove him to Rashad’s house and told him to get out, go inside, and I’d pick him up later. I wanted him to see what ... what could happen if he strayed off the path he was on.”
Rashad being Rashad Jackson, Butler’s younger brother and a standout running back at Northwest in the late 1990s. Jackson, like Bryce, went to K-State amid massive amounts of hype. He also flamed out, quitting the team after differences with coach Bill Snyder.
“My brother doesn’t have a bad life, I’m not saying that at all,” Butler said. “But he failed. We all failed by not helping him realize his potential.”
Bryce went in the house and came out, several hours later, with a drastically new viewpoint of what he wanted for himself.
“Honestly, the first thing I tried to do was to get him to go back to Kansas State, because I’d been through a similar thing with Coach Snyder, but he had his mind made up,” Jackson said. “After I realized that, I just wanted to make sure he understood that he didn’t want to walk down the same path I did. I have a good life. I have a nice, beautiful family. But I let a lot of people down .... I let myself down. You don’t want to live with that type of regret. Don’t take that with you for the rest of your life. I wanted him to know that.”
Shortly after, Bryce moved to Knoxville to be with Morgan, working together at a local dog kennel and striking a deal with an athletic trainer to help training sessions with other athletes in exchange for sessions of his own.
The Eagles drafted Bryce in the seventh round — the final round — of the 2012 draft.
In October, on an Eagles off week, he took Morgan home to Wichita and proposed, spelling out “Will you marry me?” with leaves he’d picked and pasted to a mesh background and laid out behind a lake. When she turned around after seeing the message, there was Bryce, with a ring.
On Nov. 26, he made his first start since high school, on “Monday Night Football” against the Carolina Panthers. He ran for a Philadelphia rookie-record 178 yards and scored two touchdowns. He finished the season with 564 yards and four touchdowns.
In March, not long after he and Morgan found out they were having a baby, they went to Fiji and got married.
“It’s going to be a boy,” Bryce said. “And it’s such a blessing. We’ve been doing all this research on babies and what it’s going to be like to be new parents and more than anything, I suppose we’re both thankful that we can have a child, because a lot of people want to and can’t. I’m lucky to be with somebody who loves me and is so supportive and strong with Morgan.
“And now, having my brother so close to us ... I was happy when I got drafted, of course, but when (Arthur) got picked, I was just kind of overwhelmed with this feeling that’s hard to describe. Elation, I guess.”
And the boy has a name — Beckham Lee Brown. Same initials as his dad, Bryce Lee Brown.
“There aren’t really any words for it, to bring someone into our circle, to get a new member of our family,” Arthur said. “I don’t know what the future holds for (Beckham), but I know it’s going to be bright. That’s for sure.”
Morgan Brown laughs, now, when asked if she was the girl Bryce left K-State for.
“There were all kinds of rumors going around, a lot of negative attention on both us, people saying I was pregnant and all kinds of crazy stuff,” said Morgan, who was in Wichita with Bryce for a pair of free football camps hosted by Bryce and Arthur. “It was hard, because we felt like we couldn’t talk to anybody because everyone was so negative ... it felt like, for awhile, us versus everybody else.”
She also has a unique perspective on the relationship between Arthur and Bryce. Arthur drove from Baltimore to Philadelphia every weekend during three weeks of organized team activities, staying with Bryce and Morgan while recovering from sports hernia surgery.
“I’ve never seen anybody who looked up to their brother as much as Bryce looks up to Arthur,” Morgan said. “The stress of being in the NFL is just so great, and there’s so much that’s expected of them and such an incredible grind ... having the two of them be so close to each other isn’t just good for Arthur because Bryce has been through it already, but it’s good for Bryce, too.”
Both face daunting tasks this season — Bryce trying to replicate his rookie success and adapt to a new offense under first-year coach Chip Kelly. He scored on an 8-yard touchdown run in the Eagles’ preseason opener against the New England Patriots, but sat out last week against Carolina. He still is projected to be Philadelphia’s No. 2 running back behind LeSean McCoy.
Bryce slimmed down in the offseason, dropping 17 pounds to get down to around 220.
“I feel a lot better, a lot quicker,” Bryce said. “I’m as ready as I’m going to be, I just need to always keep improving and keep getting better. We’ve got a really talented team and I think our focus is totally on camp and getting through that grind. We’re all ready.”
Arthur has been brought in to replace Ray Lewis, one of the greatest players in NFL history, after Lewis helped lead Baltimore to a Super Bowl win last season before retiring.
“I haven’t got to meet (Lewis) yet, but I’m definitely looking forward to it,” Arthur said. “But I can’t do what he’s done, because there’s no one like him. I have such an enormous respect for what he’s accomplished and the impact he’s had on the people who played with him, which I get to see when I’m around my teammates. In that way, he’s had an impact on me, too.”
Arthur has impressed in camp with his play-making and, just like at K-State, his ferocious hitting ability and focus.
He’s living in a hotel during training camp, but has already found a place to live, renting an apartment just a short drive from the Ravens’ training facility in Owings Mills, Md.
“It’s actually pretty similar to the place I had in Manhattan,” Arthur said. “Nothing fancy, not at this point, just a little apartment. Just trying to stay rooted and grounded and making sure everything I do is about me maintaining focus. Coach Snyder did a great job with myself and the entire senior class about always emphasizing to us the importance of keeping locked in on your goals, so there’s a blueprint there, in my mind, that works. I’ll continue to carry that out as long as I’m playing.”
One thing that’s different, though, from K-State and being in college, is that this is a business. Arthur and Bryce are commodities now.
There is so much uncertainty in both their futures playing the most popular professional sport in America. No one can say how things will work out.
But you can always speculate.
Arthur Brown, on the edge of everything, is asking a question.