The guy wearing out the industrial strength treadmill at D-1 Fitness looked familiar, though slightly smaller than the last time we met.
Yet even wearing two heavy sweat suits in 90-degree heat couldn't keep Tony Brown from flashing his lightning white smile.
"I've worked out every day since last August," said Brown, the former Tennessee Titan who was let go a year ago after tearing up his right knee the previous season.
"I didn't want to go out with an injury. I want to walk away on my own."
A call from former Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher — now the head man with the St. Louis Rams — means he'll have a chance to make that wish come true.
"I worked out for them twice last season," he said. "They contacted me again a few weeks ago. Thank God."
This doesn't mean he'll stick, but it does ensure that the 20 pounds he's shed to reach 295 might impress more than his wife, LaChandra, and their two young sons.
"Once you get to a certain age you're not going to get any stronger," said Brown, who'll turn 32 exactly two months from today. "But playing at a lighter weight can really help your quickness and your knees."
Until his knee gave way, the City High and Memphis product had never suffered a serious injury through eight seasons of professional football.
"Everything happens for a reason," he said. "I really think I was meant to be here and help guys like Tim Benford [Red Bank/Tennessee Tech] and Jeremy Caldwell [Red Bank/Eastern Kentucky] get ready for their shot at the NFL."
Indeed, the defensive back Caldwell will join Brown in the Rams camp while Benford attempts to make it with the Dallas Cowboys as a wide receiver.
"Those guys have put in a lot of work," Brown said. "They'll have a chance."
That determination to encourage those around him was missed by the Titans when he was cut.
Said fellow defensive lineman Sen'Derrick Marks: "No matter what you knew or thought you knew, Tony still taught you something. He was a great teacher to me ... and he's going to be a life-long friend of mine."
Perhaps that's why Brown already has a coaching offer in the Canadian Football League this season if it doesn't work out with the Rams.
But that doesn't mean he plans on moving the family north of the border.
"I'm home," he said. "This is where LaChandra and I plan to live and raise our sons. My long-term goal is to coach in this area one day."
They've been together as either boyfriend-girlfriend or husband-wife since they were 14 years old. And during most of that time, LaChandra has worked as a hair stylist, including during his time with the Titans.
"We've just signed a lease on a place outside Hamilton Place for her to start her own shop," Brown said proudly. "Studio V. We're opening in October."
What he won't be doing in October is watching 3-year-old Tyre or 1-year-old Troy play football.
"I'm trying to get them into T-ball or soccer," he said. "Something with some longevity."
In the NFL, eight years is longevity. Especially as a defensive tackle. And since Brown could have played under suspended defensive coordinator Gregg Williams with the Rams had the coach not been suspended for his role in the New Orleans Saints' Bountygate, Brown was asked his opinion on the scandal.
"Williams was gone from the Titans before I got there," he said. "But to me, it's kind of been overblown. I know that never happened anywhere I've played. Now we had pools among the players for most sacks in a game, something like that. I contributed to those pots, but I never won one.
"But I'd have never been a part of a pot where the goal was to hurt somebody. If I found out someone was trying to injure me, there'd be a fight."
Six years ago, when Fisher was first deciding whether to sign Brown in mid-season, the Titans coach asked the player, "If I gave you a job, what would you bring to our team?"
Replied the player, "All I can do is play hard, work hard in practice and you won't have any problems out of me."
Whether or not there's enough left in Brown's tank to make the Rams, if he hadn't been true to his word then, Fisher wouldn't be giving him a chance now.
"Either way," he said, "I'll be a peace when I leave this game."
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...
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