Before he started kindergarten, Chicago Wolves center Patrick Brown knew how Cheerios tasted while using the Stanley Cup as his cereal bowl.
Before he finished high school, Brown knew how it felt to run on a confetti-littered field with dozens of cousins to celebrate your family’s franchise having won the Super Bowl – against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, no less.
Yet, for someone privileged to experience such magical moments at such a young age, Brown grew up with no sense of entitlement. In fact, the 27-year-old Wolves alternate captain uses his childhood influences to aspire to excellence every day.
Considering he has won championships and been a leader throughout his hockey career – winning two high school titles at Cranbrook Kingswood School in Michigan, one NCAA title at Boston College and the 2019 Calder Cup while captaining the Charlotte Checkers – Brown has been doing things right for a long time.
“I’d always say I wanted to be a professional hockey player,” Patrick said. “I feel blessed that this has worked out for me. I try to put the team before myself so we have the best chance of winning. At the end of the day, we’re in the business of winning hockey games. That’s the most fun thing for me.
“We have the privilege of being among a very select few human beings who get to do what they love every single day. You don’t trade that in for the world. Just being able to come in and try to win hockey games every single day with your teammates? That’s a dream come true.”
ALL THE NEWS THAT’S FIT TO PRINT
How does a young man’s life turn out like this? The answers can be found in the July 2, 1988, edition of the New York Times.
Hmmm. The front-page headlines such as SWEEPING POLITICAL REVISION OF SOVIET SYSTEM APPROVED IN STORMY MEETING OF PARTY and PRETORIA PRESENTS PLAN TO BUTTRESS SEGREGATION LAW don’t offer much help.
But when we turn to Page 10 of the front section, we find the news we can use: MAUREEN MARA WEDS DOUGLAS ALLEN BROWN.
“Maureen Elizabeth Mara, a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Wellington T. Mara of Rye, N.Y., and Douglas Allen Brown, a son of Mr. and Mrs. Curtis E. Brown of Southborough, Mass., were married yesterday at the Roman Catholic Church of the Resurrection in Rye. The Rev. John McCarthy performed the ceremony.
The bride, a production assistant at CBS Sports in New York, graduated from the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Greenwich, Conn., and Boston College. Her father is the president and owner of the New York
Giants, founded by her grandfather the late Timothy J. Mara.
The bridegroom, a graduate of St. Mark’s School in Southborough and Boston College, plays right wing with the New Jersey Devils hockey team. His father teaches mathematics and coaches football, hockey and lacrosse at St. Mark’s.”
There’s a lot of professional sports prowess to unpack here, so let’s start with the Brown side of the family.
Doug and Maureen met during his junior year at Boston College, where she competed for the women’s golf team and served as a photographer for the school newspaper while he played hockey and lacrosse.
“I saw that beautiful redhead walking around BC and saw her sit down with a friend of mine,” Doug said. “So I went over and made that mutual friend of ours introduce us. To this day, she says she met me under false pretenses because I was introduced as a lacrosse player.”
While technically true, hockey was his future. Though Doug, a skilled 5-foot-10, 185-pound forward, was never drafted by an NHL team, he needed only one year of AHL seasoning to become a full-time NHL contributor. As Doug and Maureen started their family, he spent six years with New Jersey and one with the Pittsburgh Penguins before joining the Detroit Red Wings prior to the 1994-95 season. That was right at the point when Scotty Bowman was transforming the Red Wings into a dynasty.
When Patrick was five years old, the Red Wings won the 1997 Stanley Cup – the franchise’s first since 1955. Detroit finished its Stanley Cup Final sweep of the Philadelphia Flyers at Joe Louis Arena, which meant Patrick and his older sister, Anna, got to go on the ice to celebrate with Dad.
“It was a wonderful, wonderful, special moment,” Doug said. “We have great pictures of Patrick sitting in the locker and champagne being spilled all over him – and that doesn’t make little kids happy. Those were great times.”
Patrick retains a vague memory of that, but owns better memories of hanging around the Red Wings’ locker room during morning skates. As Detroit had a veteran team, there were several kids his age doing the same thing.
“That was awesome,” he said. “Me and Jake Chelios and a couple other guys would rip around the locker room, chew all the bubble gum, drink all the Snapples. They’d let us skate after their practices sometimes. Any time you get to skate with your dad, it’s a blast.”
As Doug wrapped up his 15-year NHL career and transitioned into a life as a self-employed financial consultant, he and Maureen made sure to devote time to coaching Anna, Patrick, Kaitlin, Christopher and Lily in hockey, lacrosse, golf or whatever else interested them. For Patrick, working out with a dad who played 854 NHL games and won two Cups sometimes was frustrating – but mostly it was great.
“He was always a skilled player,” Patrick said. “I was always frustrated with myself. I felt like I wasn’t as skilled as he was. When he’d coach me as a kid, he’d say, “Maybe do this.’ It was always having a second coach and a dad at the same time. So there’s that frustration, but there’s always that appreciation that he’s teaching you and cares about you. We’ve all had that coach who tries to help in every single way, but at some point you’ve got to figure it out for yourself.
“There would be a whole bunch of things that he would say to me that I wouldn’t grasp. Then another coach would say the exact same thing and (snaps fingers) I would be, like, ‘Oh, now I get. That makes sense.’ ”
When asked to provide three words to describe his dad, Patrick didn’t hesitate.
“Hard-working. Kind. Humble,” he said.
“I can’t say enough good things about him. He has laid the groundwork for who I want to be as a person and as a player.”
And to think, this story has yet to take into account the influence of the Mara side of the family, which has been one of the pillars of American professional sports for nearly 100 years.
THE NEW YORK FOOTBALL GIANTS
Maureen Brown’s grandfather, Timothy J. Mara, founded the NFL’s New York Giants in 1925. Her father, Wellington, served as the team’s co-owner and president from 1965 until his passing in 2005.
“I think Maureen’s father was a class act 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” Doug said. “He quietly led and raised 11 children and did a wonderful job. His wife was the matriarch handling so many kids and then grandkids and then great-grandkids. Wellington and Ann would go to church seven days a week and Wellington would go to work six days a week. There was no ifs, ands or buts about how you lived your life. “
Wellington and Ann Mara, devout Catholics who met at a 7:30 a.m. mass, were blessed with 11 children. When Ann passed away in 2012, she was survived by those
11 children…and 43 grandchildren…and 16 great-grandchildren – and they all did their best to get together multiple times per year. And not just when the New York Giants were battling their way to Super Bowl titles in 1987, 1991, 2008 and 2012.
“My parents instilled in us family, faith and football – maybe not always in that order,” Maureen said with a laugh. “But those were our family’s founding principles. It was always an emphasis to be together to celebrate Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, our mother’s birthday, our father’s birthday, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter.”
On Christmas Eve last year, 92 family members – including Patrick Wellington Brown and his wife, Julia — gathered in Rye, New York, to celebrate together as they’ve done for decades (incidentally, the long list of Patrick’s cousins includes Oscar-nominated actress Rooney Mara and “House of Cards” star Kate Mara).
“When my grandparents were alive, it was mandatory,” Patrick said. “We’d go to their house for Christmas. The kids would go into the basement and rip tennis balls at each other and create a mess down there. The adults would be upstairs. They’d have Santa come and he would give all the little kids a present and it would be the best thing ever.
“We do it at one of my uncle’s houses now and it’s awesome to see everyone. With so many relatives, you might not see everyone during the course of a year, but it’s awesome to know you’re going to see them at Christmas.”
With so many positive influences on him, it’s easy to understand why Patrick has turned out to be such a positive leader on every team for which he plays. Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson pointed it out to the Chicago Sun-Times one week into this season.
“(He’s) a good leadership example of the harder the work, the more you’ll reap,” Thompson said.
All season, Wolves fans have witnessed how Patrick is always the first to race to the aid of a teammate on the ice. He’s the most eager defender, the biggest constant on the penalty-kill unit, the team’s leader in shorthanded goals. In essence, the adult is not much different from the Cheerios-eating child.
“He’s very determined,” Maureen said. “Patrick was the child that got up at 6 a.m. and wouldn’t stop going until he dropped at 9 p.m. He was always playing sports or fishing or looking for bugs. He broke a million bones. We were in the emergency room so many times with him before he was 10. My parents would say, ‘Can’t you calm him down?’
“He was always living every day to the fullest.”