Eight games and numerous practices dedicated to tackling football players a fraction of his age has taken a toll on Bill Brown’s body.
Not that he ever believed it wouldn’t.
Brown, a Franklin resident, is in the final phases of his first, last and only season as a member of the Marion County Crusaders, a semi-pro team in Indianapolis.
He is 54.
A 1980 Ben Davis High School graduate, Brown, who sought to play one final season of football after a cancer scare (melanoma) two years ago, continues to savor every moment of the experience.
“The very first regular-season game, all of the jitters came back. Just running down the field and smelling the grass,” Brown said. “Each game has had its own different flavor.”
Marion County finished with a 5-3 record during the regular season. The Crusaders are the No. 4 seed in the upcoming playoffs when they host the fifth-seeded Bloomington Cutters the night of Aug. 13 at Ritter High School.
Brown, who is listed on the roster as a 6-foot, 200-pound linebacker/strong safety, is used primarily on special teams. He also coaches special teams for the Crusaders and was voted a team captain by teammates earlier this season.
Though having always maintained good cardiovascular health for a man his age, learning to run in full pads while blocking, hitting and absorbing hits after a 36-year gridiron hiatus proved as challenging as Brown anticipated.
“Probably after the third game, things started to come back to me. Have I lost a step? You better believe it. Were there times I grabbed air when I thought I had a guy tackled? Absolutely,” Brown said with a laugh.
Brown is cheered on at games by his wife, Threca, and their three grown children, ages 31, 26 and 23. Some of Brown’s friends from high school have also been present for home Crusaders’ home games at Ritter.
One of the more memorable moments of the regular season came in the Crusaders’ game against the Kentucky Calvary on July 16 in Jeffersonville.
Inserted into the game as a tight end for the team’s offense, Brown caught a two-point conversion pass from quarterback Blake Kennedy in the team’s 52-6 victory.
The Marion County Crusaders practice twice weekly.
On Tuesday afternoons they conduct sessions on an artificial surface field at 55 North Tibbs Ave. in Indianapolis. The Crusaders practice Thursday evenings at the Ritter High School football stadium.
Regardless of how deep of a postseason run the Crusaders make, Brown insists the 55-year-old version of himself won’t be taking the field. Nor will he be putting on the helmet and pads at 56, 57 and so on.
“No, this is still it for me,” Brown said. “What I am thinking about is going into ownership of one of these teams.”
Brown is employed by Homeland Security as a Customs and Border Protection Chief. He would like to create a semi-pro football team based in the inner city of Indianapolis as an athletics outlet for men of all races ages 18 and older.
First-year Crusaders head coach Gary Cooper Jr., a 2003 graduate of Indianapolis Northwest High School, shares Brown’s vision.
“At 19, I could have been into drugs. It was all around me,” said Cooper, who credits his involvement in semi-pro football for saving his life. “I’m 100-percent behind (Brown). It’s a lot of politics involved, but I see it in the near future. I really do.”
THE BROWN FILE
Name: Bill Brown
Family: Wife, Threca; daughters, Ashley, 31, and Haley, 23; son, Joshua, 26
High school: Ben Davis (1980)
College: Park College (1987)
Favorite TV show: “Game of Thrones”
Favorite food: Pizza
Favorite movie: “Man on Fire”
Favorite athlete: Joe Namath
Favorite team: University of Notre Dame football