NFL

Reggie White Emotionally Broke News of Teammate’s Tragic Death to Fans

The 1991 Eagles had the most fearsome defense in the NFL. Opposing quarterbacks completed 44% of their passes, the lowest rating since 1978. If Philly QB Randall Cunningham wasn’t injured, Philadelphia would’ve been locked and loaded to take it all the way to the Super Bowl. Reggie White and Jerome Brown were a huge reason why that defense was so good.

The intersecting football lives of Jerome Brown and Reggie White

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The defensive end and defensive tackle, respectively, neared the end of their contracts with the Eagles. They had every reason to prove their worth, whether to the Eagles or to any outside suitors after 1992. White was on his sixth Pro Bowl appearance that year, White on his second. These were players smack dab in the middle of their primes.

Brown racked up nine sacks in 1991, according to NFL.com, backing up White’s amazing 15. This was a defensive line that brutalized opposing QBs. They maximized every ounce of efficiency they could muster to make up for their own starter’s absence. Ultimately, that version of the Eagles landed at a respectable 10-6, but statistically, they fielded one of the best defenses of the era.

How White handled sharing the news of Brown’s death with fans

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White was always deeply religious. As he led the Eagles defense to ever greater heights, his commitment to Christianity seemed to deepen in response. It was a contrast with Brown’s exuberant, partying lifestyle. This contrast led the two deepen their friendship, in and out of the locker room. White pushed Brown to work on some of his wilder habits, while Brown encouraged White to loosen up.

This dichotomy showed itself on the very day Brown passed away in an auto accident, as The New York Times details. White was working with pastor Billy Graham at a five-day sold out prayer series at Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium. He was scheduled to give a speech and share a prayer with the crowd of 200,000. But minutes before, he was informed of Brown’s death.

He did not shy away from the moment. Instead, White tearfully took to the podium. The crowd gasped with shock, hearing of Brown’s death for the very first time. He shared a short remembrance of his friend, taking moments to pause and gather himself. His personal and professional lives had just been shattered by the loss, but he felt the need to be the one to tell the crowd the awful news.

What could’ve been: Brown and White to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Defensive lineman Reggie White of the Philadelphia Eagles looks on from the sideline
Defensive lineman Reggie White of the Philadelphia Eagles | George Gojkovich/Getty Images

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When White died just as the pair were at the precipice of the next major phase of their football lives. The two planned to sell themselves as a package deal to the highest bidder. In fact, a deal to sell to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was close to completion, according to then-Tampa Bay sports beat reporter Pat Yasinskas.

White and Brown were the focal point of the best defense in the league at that point. It’s up in the air whether the notoriously stingy owner Hugh Culverhouse would’ve actually spent at the going rate to get the pair on board. But it’s a tantalizing prospect to think about. Imagine if the Tom Brady/Rob Gronkowski re-teaming with the Bucs happened five years earlier; this would’ve been the defensive version of that.

Instead, White stopped pushing for the Bucs spot and went with whoever needed a top-flight DE. He landed with the Green Bay Packers, winning the Super Bowl with them a few years later. In 2004, White also passed far too early, due to sleep apnea complications. Two of the NFL’s best are now gone, both of whom could easily be with us today.