PALESTINE — The main thing Ivory Lee Brown misses about his playing days is the team camaraderie, which he experienced at football’s highest level.
Now a ripened 43-year-old, the Palestine great is getting to witness his sons forge a bond at home and team up for his beloved Wildcats.
Dante Brown, Ivory Lee “LJ” Brown Jr. and Kobe Brown are members of the Palestine High School football program. All three are under the same Anderson County roof for the first time, a chapter in life that Ivory Lee relishes.
“It’s really exciting to be around them and raise them,” the former NFL running back said. “You get to show boys how to be men and that’s a good thing. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of kids who have that.”
Ivory Lee graduated from Palestine HS as one of the most decorated players in East Texas history, rushing for 1,800 yards as a senior (1986) and ranking second among the state’s top running back recruits. He signed a national letter of intent with Texas A&M during the spring, but ended up playing at Tyler Junior College and Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
Following a successful collegiate career, Ivory Lee was selected in the seventh round of the 1991 NFL Draft and played four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals (then Phoenix Cardinals). His most successful season occurred in 1992, during which he started in five games and rushed for 194 yards and two touchdowns.
Having grown up hearing all about it, Dante, LJ and Kobe are proud of their dad’s playing career. His example has helped them become better players, a role elder cousin Adrian Peterson has also provided.
“A couple of days ago, a dude was telling me how (my dad) had over 355 yards in a game against a good team,” Dante said. “That’s pretty nice right there.”
Dante, LJ and Kobe have enjoyed the experience of living together, which has blessed them with a growing list of brotherly moments, from playing catch to making fun of each other. Any given night at the Brown home could feature Dante talking on the phone, LJ spending time with his girlfriend and Kobe playing video games.
Until this year, that scene only happened on occasion. Born to different mothers, Dante, LJ and Kobe spent much of their youth separated by state lines. Dante lived with his mom in Grapeland, while LJ and Kobe stayed with their mom in Ohio.
The plan now is for all three to graduate from Palestine, Ivory Lee said.
“That’s one of the exciting things about it,” said Ivory Lee, referring to watching them compete in the maroon and white. “It’s really just a blessing and I look forward to it. Being that I set records and their cousin set records, for them to have the opportunity to put their own mark on Palestine is exciting to see.”
Dante, a senior and the older brother, is the only one who suits up to play their dad’s former position. LJ, a junior, has a defensive mentality (cornerback) and Kobe, a freshman, prefers to compete in the trenches.
The Brown family has produced several notable athletes over the years, including Peterson (his mom is Bonita Brown). Dante reaped the benefits of the NFL lockout, spending the entire summer at Peterson’s home in Houston.
“It was great,” Dante said. “I got to meet a lot of other players like Vince Young, who worked out at same place that he worked out. Last Friday, I got an unexpected call from (Adrian) out of nowhere and he talked to me about a good three hours about some good things, (about how) to be successful.”
Ivory Lee appreciates his nephew’s relationship with his sons.
“I welcome it, because I know A.D. is going to move them in the right direction,” Ivory Lee said. “They are really close. (Dante) talks with Adrian all the time. …They are blessed. They come from a good gene pool on both sides.”
Ivory Lee will get to witness his sons play again this week when Palestine (1-1) travels to Van (2-0) on Friday night. He’s been the subject of many tales involving Palestine football over the years. Now, his sons are creating new memories.
“I’ve got to practice hard out here because people know my dad and everything,” Kobe said. “People are always telling me that my dad was really good at football. They are always telling me that I act just like him, I walk just like him.”
Added LJ: “It’s pretty cool when everybody knows your dad and stuff. It’s nothing bad; I like it. Expectations are high, because everybody is always saying ‘We want you to play like your dad, I hope you can do this like your dad.’
“They said he was one of the greatest running backs to ever come through Palestine. Some people say he was better than Adrian.”