No surprise to J.W. "I knew it was a gamble," he says, "but I also knew that in the state of Texas, everybody's boss is either from the University of Texas or Texas A&M. Texas is a place to make contacts for your future."
So the Browns listened to Mackovic, who is not, says Bernstein, "a real razzle-dazzle recruiter." Mackovic told Brown, "You'll be a quarterback, and if you want to sit on the bench as a quarterback, that's what you'll do. I will not move you [to another position]." As to the race issue, Mackovic said only, "Check me out. I give people a fair shake. If you're the best player, you'll play."
J.W. bought it. James bought it. There was one other factor. During his junior year in high school, in the spring of '92, James had watched Texas's spring game and come away unimpressed with starting quarterback Shea Morenz, a 6'2" high school standout who had played in two games as a true freshman. "I thought I could beat him out," James says.
As soon as he arrived in Austin, in the fall of '93, Brown started getting letters just like the ones Donnie Little had received a decade and a half before. "Mean stuff," says James. " 'Go home, there's no place for you here,' and things like that."
Classmate Tre Thomas saw some of the prose, heard some of the criticism. "James had to endure an incredible amount of stuff," says Thomas. "But throughout all of it, James just stayed James. Pressure is just another thing to him."
It took a redshirt year and then a shoulder injury to Morenz for Brown to get his break, in the fifth game of the '94 season. Working with a bare-bones offense, Brown engineered a 17-10 victory over archrival Oklahoma and then went on to lead the Longhorns to three more wins in their last seven games. In the regular-season finale he threw a school-record five touchdowns in a 63-35 pasting of Baylor that gave Texas a 1-4 record and earned it a berth in the Sun Bowl, which it won 35-31 over North Carolina. The following spring Morenz quit football after being taken in the first round of the major league baseball draft by the New York Yankees.
Brown led Texas to a 10-1-1 record as a sophomore, but the season was soured by a disappointing 28-10 loss to Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. Last year started out promising, with two wins to open the season, but Brown then fell on his face in back-to-back losses. He threw a killing interception in a 27-24 loss to Notre Dame and threw three more in the first half of a 37-13 trouncing at Virginia the next week, a game in which he was benched in the second quarter. The Longhorns had a modest 7-4 record heading into the Big 12 title game against Nebraska, but the defeat of the Huskers salvaged the season. Texas was drilled 38-15 by Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl.
In three years Brown has grown into a consummate leader with a high threshold of pain. In the final regular-season game of '95, he took every snap of a brutal 16-6 victory over Texas A&M in College Statin despite a badly sprained right ankle. "The most courageous game I've ever seen from a player," says Mackovic. "He had no mobility, and they blitzed him on every play. They kept coming and coming and coming, and James kept getting up."
Brown's quick feet have added a dimension to Mackovic's pro-style passing game. "We call him the Dime Man," says teammate Quinton Wallace, "because he can put the dimes on you, as in stop on a dime and cut the other way." Cornerback Bryant Westbrook, a first-round pick by the Detroit Lions in last spring's NFL draft, says, "I call him the Godfather when he starts putting those moves on."
Yet Brown is prone to interceptions (24 in the last two seasons, against 36 touchdowns), and he has an awkward throwing motion that stresses his shoulder and left him weak-armed for much of the '95 season. But Brown is 21-7-1 as a starter, has thrown for 5,962 yards and rushed for 382 more. The most important statistic is that one completion in St. Louis.