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Umpire Chad Brown has died at age 69

Chadwick Brown 1947-2016

Football Zebras has learned that former umpire Chad Brown died Friday morning after battling a long illness. The 23-year veteran wore  number 31, and was assigned to Super Bowl XXXV and XLV. Our sources say he died on his 69th birthday. Brown retired in the middle of the 2014 season.

Chadwick Curtis Brown Jr. was born Sept. 9, 1947, in Dallas. He played collegiate football at Texas A&M—Commerce — then known as East Texas State University — and was in training camp for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Houston Oilers, and New Orleans Saints. Despite contemporary accounts, Brown was not on an active roster during the regular season.

For several years Brown worked in the intramural department at UCLA.

Brown joined the NFL in 1992, after spending several years as an umpire in the Western Athletic Conference, and was the first official of color to work at the umpire position in the NFL. His first referee was Jerry Markbreit, who spoke highly of the rookie umpire.   Early in his career, Brown called a controversial chop block foul on the New York Giants, killing a rally and incensing Giants coach Dan Reeves.   Brown recounts that it took several days until an angle finally emerged that affirmed his call.

After officiating with Markbreit, Brown worked on crews lead by referees Ed Hochuli, Larry Nemmers, Ron Blum, Pete Morelli and Bill Vinovich. In addition to the two Super Bowls, Brown also was given an alternate assignment to Super Bowl XXXIII and an on-field assignment in the 1994 World Bowl, the championship game of the former NFL Europe league.

After Brown was the Super Bowl alternate official, he wrote  Inside the Meat Grinder: An NFL Official’s Life in the Trenches  (Macmillan, 1999), an autobiography — but narrated in the third person — about his playing and officiating life. The meat grinder is a metaphorical term for the extended tackle box area where the lineman are grappling and receiver crossing routes converge near the spot where the umpire was positioned prior to 2012.

The 6’5″, 250-pound umpire was an imposing figure on the field, and gained the respect of many players for his own collegiate and preseason NFL experience. In his book, Brown recalled an incident in a Nov. 8, 1998, game between the 49ers and Panthers where he found himself in the path of a receiver in the meat grinder:

The Panthers’ offensive line breaks backward, and sure enough, Raghib “Rocket” Ismail is slanting up the middle, right at Chad. Chad steps back, but Rocket keeps coming at full speed. He’s using the umpire as a pick! The plan is to run the defender at Chad, then streak by and catch the quick pass up the middle.

The thing is, Chad owns the meat grinder and he doesn’t want Rocket or anyone else in his house. As Rocket blows by, Chad lowers his shoulder and levels him. Rocket hurtles backward as if he’s been shot. He flops into the soggy turf. Shaken, Rocket scrambles to locate who nailed him, expecting to see [49ers linebacker Ken Norton Jr.]. The only one around is the umpire. Chad turns casually away to watch the play unfold. [Steve] Beuerlein, seeing Rocket on the ground, floats a pass toward Wesley Walls, the tight end. Walls, wearing a cast on his left wrist, snags the ball one-handed and tucks it in against his clump of plaster. He lowers his head as he’s tackled upfield for a first down. …

“First down!” Chad bellows. Rocket jogs back to his huddle.

The NFL fined Brown $3,500 for publishing the book without obtaining the league’s consent.

He and his family lived in Carson, Calif., up until his death. Brown is survived by his wife, Deborah, and his twin sons, Trent and Devin.

In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting donations to be sent in Chad’s name to Families For Children, 2500 W. Manchester Blvd., Inglewood, CA 90305.

Our condolences to all who knew him and loved him.

Update 9/22: Officials will wear a 31 patch on their caps in remembrance of Brown (below), and umpire Barry Anderson has changed his uniform number to 31.

Update 9/28: Additional biographical information was received, and we updated Chad’s birth and age.


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Ben Austro
Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)

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6 thoughts on “Umpire Chad Brown has died at age 69

  1. Sad news. His book was the first book I read written by an official. I shall have to read it again.

  2. An amazing guy and official. I know the title “gentle giant” is taken but it is still befitting to Chad. Helpful, humble and humorous. A true asset to the game …on and off the field.

  3. Read the interview with (Jerry)Markbreit in REFEREE last week for like, the 900th time, and jerry speaks VERY highly. Also read that excellent magazine’s interview with Chad after he went to Hochuli’s crew. The NFL alumni has lost a very special man. RIP Chad, and thank you for showing your talent, and just what a special guy you were.

  4. You touched our lives and graced us with your smile, sense of humor and generosity. You were an extraordinary role model for our children and a true pillar of strength. Your spirit lives on in all of us that you touched!

  5. Chad was my supervisor at UCLA… He was the best and more like a father after I lost my father. My heart is hurting after knowing he is gone. I tried calling several time and was under the impression that something was wrong when I never received a response. Chad Brown, you will be missed and I love you..

    Deborah Allen

  6. Chad was an amazing and generous man. If it wasn’t for Chad. I wouldn’t have my passion for sports traveling. It all started in 2005 in Dallas. I’ve been to Green Bay, Kansas City, Carolina to name a few. You will be missed. I love you. I want to say Thank You #31

    Clayton Allen

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