Earning His Wings
Throughout the 1980s, Joe Brown annually attended Philadelphia Eagles training camps, dressed from head to toe in green, screaming encouragement for everyone from the biggest star to the scrawniest scrub. Then, in 1988, the call came. "Joe," said a ball boy, "Coach wants to see you."
Brown was led to Buddy Ryan, the Eagles' coach at the time and the roughest, toughest, most intimidating s.o.b. in the game. "Buddy hands me a sideline pass," recalls Brown, who attended his first Philadelphia game in 1959. "Then he said to me, 'Welcome to the field.'
Ever since that day Eagle Joe has had all-access privileges to the team's training facilities. Every summer he takes three weeks off from his job as a cashier at an Acme supermarket, drives to Lehigh, Pa., and roams the sidelines. At his home in Exton, Pa., Brown, 50, keeps the dozens upon dozens of photo albums from his years with the Eagles. "It bothers me, the way everyone makes personal attacks if a player isn't doing well," says Brown. "To me they're athletes second, people first."
This Bender Never Stops
Patricia Bender, a 30-year-old computer programmer, has been attending Dallas Mavericks games since the 1983-84 season. She hasn't missed a home game in five years, which—in dog years—means she hasn't missed one Shawn Bradley brick, one Dennis Rodman flop, one Bruno Sundov... uh, well, what exactly did Bruno Sundov do? To answer that question, you could go to her website (www.dfw.net/~patricia/mavs.htm), which she started in 1995. So detailed and accurate are her records and notes that the Mavericks hired her to compile stats, search for trends and identify team records. Despite her affection for the Mavs, she's reluctant to make chitchat with Steve Nash or to ask Nellie for an autograph. "I'm very shy," she says. "I wouldn't know what to say."
Michigan State of Bliss
When it comes to born-again Michigan State football fans, nobody is in Duane Vernon's league. In 1949, on a ride home from a Spartans basketball game, the car in which Vernon was riding skidded on ice and struck an oil tanker. He was hurled into the windshield, and three of the five high school buddies with him were killed. He was pronounced DOA at the hospital before a faint pulse was detected and he was revived. Since then, the 1953 Michigan State alum has loved the Spartans with a passion worthy of Spartacus. In the basement of his Lansing home, Vernon's Spartan Room houses hundreds of Michigan State artifacts, from flags and lamps to a milk can and a toilet-paper roller that plays the Spartans' fight song. Though the 69-year-old plans to cheer on State for decades to come, he has—just in case—picked out a green casket.
An Extended Courtship
Cheeks sunken and pallid, hair stringy and gray and pulled back in a ponytail, Jim Goldstein is the Keith Richards of NBA fans in Los Angeles. The 60ish real-estate mogul has been courtside for the Lakers since his grad school days at UCLA in 1962 and for the Clippers since they docked in L.A., in '84. "Sitting on the floor makes me feel as if I'm in the game," says Goldstein, a onetime beau of Jayne Mansfield's who got hooked on pro basketball in the '50s while keeping stats for his hometown Milwaukee Hawks. Goldstein says he often goes to Clippers games to see the opposition. "I'm an NBA purist," he explains.
Not a masochist.
The Iceman Cometh