By Vincent Landolfi, Jr.
According to the Nielson Ratings of national television viewing, 21.5 million people watched the Oct. 20 NFL Sunday Night Football game between the Colts and the Broncos. Of that number, most wanted to see Denver quarterback Peyton Manning return “home” to Indianapolis to face his former team, who welcomed him with a video tribute on the huge scoreboard screen.
A few million of the more enlightened fans may have realized that the matchup featured Indy running back Donald Brown (Red Bank Catholic High School Class of 2005), who played alongside Manning during 2009-2011, versus Denver running back Knowshon Moreno (Middletown South Class of 2005), who is Manning’s current teammate.
Probably not more than the 630,000 residents of Monmouth County knew that Moreno and Brown, who both graduated from Shore Conference schools the same year, received Division I college scholarships for football (Georgia and Connecticut, respectively), and were taken as the first and second running backs in the 2009 NFL draft.
Even smaller, however, is the number of viewers who were aware of the fact that two of the greatest football players ever to come from this area were teammates on the now-defunct Atlantic Highlands Tigers Pop-Warner football team. You would think such a team would be unstoppable. You would think wrong.
“We were like the ‘Bad News Bears,’ ” Brown laughed. “We won some, but not many. It was fun, though; playing the game at that level is so pure.”
When asked about Moreno, his tone and description changed. “He was a great player,” Brown said in all seriousness. “He was fun to watch. You knew then he would be a special player.”
Both backs went on to have two of the greatest seasons ever their senior years, and bumped into each other from time to time, such as during the photo taken of the All-Shore Football team.
“We crossed paths later, toward the college scouting combines before the draft,” Brown remembered. “We saw each other at different pre-draft and NFL-related functions.”
The two were linked forever as the Shore backs to be taken 1-2 in the draft, something that had never happened before, and likely never to again.
But when Moreno and the Broncos traveled to Indy a few weeks ago to face Brown and the Colts, a few hundred locals, especially from the Highlands and Atlantic Highlands area, were excited to see the former teammates on opposite sides of the ball.
They greeted each other after the game, during which the Colts handed the Denver its first loss of the season, and decided to honor their Tigers Pop-Warner days in a special way.
“Knowshon said, ‘hey, let’s swap jerseys,’ ” Brown said. “I thought it was very good, awesome idea. A lot of the (international) soccer players do it, and so we did.”
So now the greatest running back ever to come out of Red Bank Catholic High School now has a jersey from the greatest running back ever to come out of Middletown High School South, and vise versa.
“You make relationships every step of the way,” Brown said. “It’s always fun to remember and reminisce about the past.”
What does the future hold for Brown, who is in the last year of his contract with the Colts?
“I’d like to stay in Indy,” Brown said. “We (Donald is married with a 9-month-old) love it here and want to make it our home.”
But whether Brown continues to play in the NFL with a horseshoe on his helmet, or somewhere else, he seems to still have the right attitude and approach. “I try and keep the mentality that it’s big business playing a kid’s game. I realize that I am living out my dream and try to appreciate every moment.”
It is refreshing to hear such sentiment from a professional athlete, who is so grounded and down to earth. He appreciates where he is, and remembers where he came from.
“He is so genuine with such class,” said RBC Principal Robert Abatemarco. “He has become a fine man. How lucky are we to know him?”
And, how lucky was he and Knowshon Moreno to forge a friendship that transcends these 15 years and countless days of football. “I always want it to be fun,” Brown said.
Like playing Pop-Warner for the Tigers.