The biggest difference between the Dave Brown that stands in front of me now and the one that I watched on TV as a kid is that instead of a dark blue jersey and a Giants helmet, Brown wears a shirt and tie and looks like hundreds of thousands of other workers in the city. It’s a prospect Brown himself never foresaw and discussed with former Giants great Phil Simms one day while the two were on the team’s practice field overlooking New York City:
“We were warming up and he said, ‘Boy look at all those buildings, people actually work in there… Could you imagine that, going to work every single day in the city?’ And now it’s pretty ironic how it’s come full circle where I am that guy commuting into New York City and I am in that building. So I think about that a lot.”
At that moment with Simms, Brown was completely oblivious to his future career. But he’s quite happy at Greenhill & Co, the investment banking firm where he was made a partner earlier this year.
At 6-5, Brown towers over me and looks much the same as he did 15 years ago when he was the quarterback in the country’s biggest market. Sure, Brown has a bit more grey sprinkled in his hair than he did during his days with the Giants, but he still has the look of an athlete.
The Wrong System at the Wrong Time
Brown, drafted first overall by the New York Giants in the 1992 Supplemental Draft out of Duke, had a lengthy 10-year career by NFL standards, but his on-field success was limited. In all, Brown made 60 starts in his NFL career, 53 with the Giants and seven with the Arizona Cardinals. He threw 26 touchdowns and 34 interceptions and passed for 10,248 yards.
His career started off well enough. Brown went 9-6 in his first year as a starter and nearly led the Giants to the playoffs. The Giants beat the Cowboys in the team’s last game of the year, but the Packers won their game on a late, scrambling Brett Favre touchdown to snatch a playoff berth away. “That’s basically what it came down to — a four second scramble, and they won,” Brown says.
But after the 1994 season many of the members of the Giants’ Super Bowl teams moved on and the team replaced them with inexperienced players. Brown thinks this poor timing deserves a large part of the blame for his struggles with the Giants in 1995 and 1996 when the team went 5-11 and 6-10, respectively.
He started to develop “bad habits” when the team needed him to create more on his own in 1995. “”That’s where I wasn’t equipped to do anything,” Brown says. “I just wasn’t athletic enough to be able to create the things that the Favres and some of the elite guys could do. I was more of a systematic quarterback.”
Brown says he threw the ball “seven to 10” times a game in high school before learning the mechanics of how to play quarterback from former Duke coach, Steve Spurrier. Brown became one of Spurrier’s first prodigies and grew used to airing it out on offence. When Brown joined the notoriously conservative Giants during the 1990s, he was asked to dramatically alter his style.
“I think a lot of times [Dan Reeves’s] offence was a little bit muddied compared to other offenses in the league. It was more of a ball control offence. I had a tough time adjusting to, you’re only going to get 20 throws a game, most are on third down, make sure that you make the most of each throw. In college I threw it 50 times a game. I always use the analogy of a pitcher — when a pitcher has an 0-2 count he throws a few waste pitches to set up the strikeout pitch. I didn’t feel like I had those waste pitches to go to. I always felt like every throw was pressure. It’s tough to play quarterback that way. If you look around the league, it’s a difficult proposition to play with the idea of just converting third downs.”
In 1997, Brown tore his pectoral muscle and lost the starting job to Danny Kanell for good. Still, in the offseason Brown was content to accept the team’s offer for him to be Kanell’s back up in New York. But after accepting a renegotiated salary, the team had a change of heart and Brown was quickly released.
“They made the right move. The biggest issue I had with the whole thing, was I basically renegotiated my contract with Jim Fassel — it was at Jason Sehorn’s wedding — and he basically said, ‘We want you back. If you take this number, we’ll have you back.’ And I said, ‘You know what, I’m fine with that’ and we shook hands there, and two days later I was released. So that was the big issue I had. I totally agree that I should have been released with the [salary cap] number I had and the way Danny was playing. But just look me in the eye and say, ‘OK, we’re releasing you.'”
Brown moved on to Arizona, where he got revenge by beating his old team in Giants Stadium the following season. He served primarily as Jake Plummer’s back up for the Cardinals, and after careful self-examination, he retired from the league in 2001.
“Towards the end the tall, immobile quarterback was sort of a dying breed, as evidenced today. I sort of saw that my time was coming to an end, and I think I was ready to go at that point.”
Life After Football
At first, Brown was content to relax and play golf in his post-NFL life, but boredom quickly consumed him. His first summer off, Brown spent a lot of time golfing with his buddies.
“[But] come labour Day, all my golf buddies had gone back to work. It was one of those things where I was like, ‘Hey where did everybody go?’ And I realised, ‘I’m kind of on my own here, I better get active as well.’ So that’s really when I started to search to find out what I really wanted to do.”
The search wasn’t easy. Brown dabbled with some announcing for both the Philadelphia Eagles and Ivy League college football during that first year, but broadcasting didn’t have the competitiveness that many athletes sorely need in their post-football careers.
“Ultimately what I found — and this is the curse of the professional athlete — it seems like to get to that level, everyone has this fire in their belly to compete, and I just felt like although the announcing thing was fun and a good time, it wasn’t satisfying that fire.”
But Brown did have interest in some topics, like the stock market, that most wouldn’t consider traditional for professional football players. While he was in Arizona “everyone was making money on the stock market” and Brown started reading some books on the subject. Lucky for Brown, his father-in-law was a golf buddy of the president of New York Life Investment Management who agreed to bring Brown in for an interview.
After also interviewing at Lehman Brothers and Merill Lynch, Brown chose to work at New York Life. Brown remembers the president of New York Life telling him “‘I don’t know what you can do, and quite frankly you don’t know what you can do. So why don’t you come in here, we’ll put you on a rotation, and find out if it works.'”
While Brown was happy to have something to do, after a few months at New York Life he decided that insurance wasn’t the competitive field he was looking for either. He sat in on a meeting with Bank of America that captured his attention and quickly switched over to New York Life’s investment management division.
“It was a pretty combative meeting where the investors were questioning the model of the hedge fund, and the ethicacy of it, and that’s sort of where I felt like that burning desire was stoked again,” Brown says.
To get up to speed, Brown had to pass the Series 7 and lean all about hedge funds, private equity, fixed income, and regular equities. He remembers having to learn how to do simple tasks, like working on the computer, that were totally foreign to him as an NFL player. After a while, Brown worked his way up and became the head of sales for the firm.
Leaving Lehman … Before It Was Too Late
After five years at New York Life, Brown decided it was time for something bigger and better. He moved to the more “competitive arena” of Lehman Brothers and worked in the private equity group. But eventually, Brown began to question Lehman’s ethics.
“Our team — talk about timing — it was May of 2008, we sort of felt like our business model was changing at Lehman, it became this sort of asset management grab. We were raising 15 funds at the time, and I think the biggest thing you have in sales is your own integrity, and once you lose that you sort of lose all your relationships. There were a lot of funds that Lehman at the time was marketing that quite frankly I had difficulty calling on my relationships with. And our team sort of felt the same way. So we all got together and decided it was time to move. So the five most senior people of our team came to Greenhill. And the timing was great, and the firm we landed at has been outstanding. Something like four months later Lehman went bankrupt.”
Brown seems to have found some stability at Greenhill in large part because he finds his work to be very stimulating. Unlike the other fields he’s tried, Brown says that his work at Greenhill “constantly refreshes.” His job entails learning and exploring a variety of different investment opportunities.
“Rather than, ‘here’s the one thing you need to know and you’re going to sell it for the next 30 years.’ The one constant is your relationships that you market to. And that’s where the credibility, and the constant being in front of these people sort of takes place. It’s the chase of this business.”
I Should Have Enjoyed It More
Brown is more than content with his life today, but he admits that he still thinks about his NFL career all the time. He readily admits that he wishes his some aspects of his career went differently, even though many of the things that happened were out of his control. Brown’s greatest regret is that he didn’t necessarily have as much fun with his professional football career as he would have liked.
“Looking back, I’m not sure I enjoyed it as much as maybe I should have. I lived and died by every day and every possession in every game. Maybe I should have taken a step back and taken a look around and actually enjoyed the experience a lot more than maybe I did.”
He expects to be at Greenhill long-term, but has interest in coaching at some point. For now, he’ll settle for coaching his daughters, ages seven and 10, in basketball. But his football coaching career may not be that far off.
“I can’t wait for my [six-year-old] son to get older so I can start coaching football,” Brown says.
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