One of those people in my life was Dr. Charles L. Brown Jr., who was the team physician during my ten years in the Saints’ front office. Charlie died Saturday evening at the age of 87, leaving behind a legacy of professionalism and warm memories among those of us who knew him. He was largely unknown to the public, but to those of us fortunate enough to have worked wth him, he was a giant in Saints history.
(Photo: Jim Finks)
Working with orthopedists Ken Saer, Terry Habig and later Tim Finney, Brown headed the team behind the team that worked with trainer Dean Kleinschmidt to assure the best medical care possible for Saints players. Team doctors have been maligned in recent years about ignoring players’ ailments, particularly concussions, if it means losing valuable playing time. “Put a Band-Aid on it” might be a clichéd cure-all in some fantasy world, but not to men like Charlie Brown.
He was big man, standing a few hands over six feet, with a deep, infectious laugh that could brighten anyone’s day. His specialty was oncology, a profession not prone to laughter but to somber expressions of concern for the patient’s condition. But Charlie was a person whose presence was comforting, whether you were chatting on the sidelines at practice or if you were a patient.
He took charge when my boss Jim Finks became ill during the 1993 draft and it was Charlie who told us that Finks, a lifetime smoker, had lung cancer. Charlie designed the treatment protocol, and I remember his optimism several months later when he said Finks was responding so well that he could not detect any cancer. But he was quick to cautioned us that cancer is an insidious and persistent disease. Almost predictably, the cancer reappeared and brought on Finks’ death.
Charlie Brown was respected among his peers and was named NFL Team Doctor of the Year in 1990 by the Professional Athletic Trainers’ Association. An impartial view came from Rob Huizenga, then a team physician for the Oakland Raiders, who described his first meeting with Dr. Brown in his 1994 book “You’re okay. It’s just a bruise.” The scene was the NFL Combine, which met in New Orleans in 1984 and 1986 before moving permanently to Indianapolis.
“Toward the end of the morning, as the influx of new players slowed to a trickle,” Huizenga wrote, “in strode Dr. Charles Brown, the team physician for the New Orleans Saints. A graying man in his mid-fifties, he was tall and thin, with a classic bespectacled professorial look. He was the president of the eighty-or-so-member National Football League Physicians Society, a group of orthopedic surgeons, internists, general surgeons, psychiatrists and even dentists…Dr. Brown had been overseeing the entire health portion of the combine, making sure all the medical and orthopedic exams were going smoothly. He had also been meeting with the NFL hierarchy about ways to stem the use and abuse of drugs and begin an educational program.
"I overheard him making arrangements to go deep into the French Quarter for lunch with a group of similarly distinguished looking team doctors … We caught a couple of cabs to an elegant New Orleans landmark. It had fans overhead, waiters scurrying around, and a very in-looking clientele. I ordered a beer and a shellfish appetizer, and in the next 45 minutes of lunch I learned more about sports medicine than I had in the previous month or two.”
Charlie loved the cuisine of the city, and I last saw him when he called and invited me to have lunch at Lilette’s, a fashionable spot on Magazine Street. We shared fond memories of the coaches and players we had worked with, and then he dispensed a final bit of advice that is as effective as any pill he ever prescribed. “Never lose contact with your contacts,” he said. “It is critical to remain socialized.” Thanks, Charlie, for giving me the honor to have known you.
Jim W. Miller is former Exec. VP of the New Orleans Saints. Visit his blog at JimWMillerSports.com