Of course, if, say, six or seven blades of grass side by side do open up, he is through them before daylight can arrive. In his first Irish return for a touchdown, against Michigan State as a sophomore, the hole was supposed to be in the middle, but it wasn't, so he took it left. In the touchdown against Air Force, it was supposed to be right but wasn't, so he took it up the middle. Against LSU and against Penn State the hole was right where it was supposed to be, in the middle, and Brown jumped on it like it was the San Diego Freeway. "Once I'm past the first wave," he says, "I'm in good shape, especially if nobody's touched me, slowed me up." In the Air Force return, Brown did make it past the wave, but one young cadet grabbed his leg, forcing him to "shift back into first." Not only that, but he also had to run the rest of the way with his sock pulled down. "Ruined the look," he says.
For just a sliver of a second Brown comes gloriously into focus, flying out of sprawled bodies, thighs churning high, the blue-and-gold jersey of Notre Dame glinting with sunlight.
Of course, that jersey was very nearly the red-and-blue of SMU, formerly a practitioner of major college football but now known mostly for its tennis and track teams. In fact, had it not been for a classic bit of Mustang skulduggery, Tim Brown might have become one of this year's Dallas travelers, knocking on doors, looking for a place to play.
Brown received the SMU pitch from L.A. Rams running back Eric Dicker-son himself. "He [Dickerson] said to me, 'Hey, man, when I was here, I got a car, and I got so much money a month. And there's no reason you can't get those things, too.' And that guy, Sherwood Blount [a wealthy SMU alumnus], was right there, not saying anything, just sitting back with his shades on, nodding."
It all sounded fine to Brown. "I could see me there," he says. "I was sold. They were giving 280Zs at the time, and man, I could just see me in one."
Then came the mischief. The night before signing day, Brown was supposed to meet a Notre Dame recruiter. But after basketball practice that day, his high school principal, Wayne Pierce—who happened to operate the 25-second clock at SMU home games—took Brown over to SMU, where Brown went in to see coach Bobby Collins for a quick chat.
"When I got there," Brown recalls, "there was chicken laid out and a bunch of stuff to eat." They were just talking, Collins and Brown, when a minicam truck from a local television station in Dallas showed up for a scheduled interview with Collins. Giving a high school recruit a ride to a campus he had already officially visited and offering him a free meal are borderline no-nos. "They had to hide me," says Brown. And so they did, in a small room, for about an hour, until the TV crew went away. Then Pierce drove Tim home.
When Brown got home, the fellow from Notre Dame had left, and older brother Don was so mad the roof tiles were steaming. "SMU's offering you all that stuff, and they're not going to do anything for you down the road!" Don said. "Look! You can go to SMU, but I can't support it, and neither will the family!" Brown signed with Notre Dame the next day. "If it hadn't been for my brother, I'd be at SMU right now," he says.