"It's kind of funny when you think about it," Brown said the other day, sitting on a bench at an old Flyers hangout called Rexy's, a bar and restaurant just over the Walt Whitman Bridge from the Spectrum, on the Black Horse Pike. There's Canada all over Brown. About comes out aboot. His words emerge slowly. He wears dungarees. He was sipping soup.
"All those kids, most of 'em never made it, and I've been playing since '83," Brown said. He has survived in the big leagues because he was willing to do what few others were. Brown is an enforcer, and he makes no apologies for it. His job is to take other people out of the game.
And now, in his worst fears, he may be taken out of the game. Dave Brown thinks the possibility that there will be no hockey season this year is strong. And if that happens, he knows his task next year, to come back as a 33-year-old after a year of idleness and prove he still belongs in the NHL, is a daunting one. Daily, he finds himself thinking about - aboot - what he might do after his playing days. No answers have emerged.
"It's a shame, that all the politics are able to stop the game," he said. ''It's ironic, when you think back to when you were a little kid, when you just played, and now you can't play because the business of the game has taken over. They used to hang oil lamps on a string across the ice so they could play at night. We played on outdoor rinks. I loved it, shoveling the snow. The cold air in your lungs makes you work harder."
He spooned himself more soup, adjusted his glasses, continued talking in the complete sentences that those who have only seen Brown play would not expect.
"I'm not a selfish player," he said. "I never played for a lot of money. I'm giving up more than the young guys. They'll come back. For me, it's going to be harder, not that I'm writing it off - I'm going to keep myself in the best shape I can and try to show I still belong. But this is where we are. I'm a union man. I'll back the union. I think we're right. But I think right now both sides have to give a little. It's not good for either side to try to
break the other. It has to work as a partnership."
If there is a season this year, Brown will earn more than he ever has, $385,000. Over the last three years, he has made a total of $945,000; in the eight seasons before that he made, in sum, about $1 million. "It's a lot of money," he said modestly. His father, now retired, worked as a mechanic on large farm equipment. His mother, a union member herself, is an administrator in the maintenance department at the University of Saskatchewan. "But it has to last a lifetime."
Brown is married to a woman from New Jersey. They own a home and would like to stay put. Before the season that never started, Brown signed a so-called termination contract, giving up his rights to free agency in order to try to make the team for which he wanted to play. In the off-season, he worked with more diligence than ever before.
"If you get off the (exercise) machines, you're letting a machine beat you, and that's stupid," he said, describing his secondary motivation. His primary motivation was to remain a Flyer, and, after a good camp, he did. He was eager for the new season. He remains eager.
"The Flyers sort of forgot how to win for a while," Brown said. "I think we're ready to turn things around. I was excited to play for Clarkie. I know that things are going to get straightened out under him. He knows how to win.
"I played 20 games with him when I first came up. That's something I'll remember. We roomed together. I got in my room and then he comes in. I was on his line for a while. Once we were playing the Islanders, and this guy hit Clarkie hard - No. 4 was his name. And I got him good. Bobby appreciated that."
The dichotomy between Brown's on-ice and off-ice personalities is perplexing. He is sent onto the ice to go after somebody. In short order, he hits that somebody hard, maybe throws a few punches, then returns to the bench. At 6 feet 5 and 205 pounds, he's an on-command goon. Off the ice, he is gentle, friendly and unassuming.
"Oh yeah, sure, I play physical," Brown said, and play seems to be the operative word. "It's a big part of the game. The strongest people are going to win. My dad taught me that. I was never skilled, but I worked hard, and I could fight. My dad was a tough guy, too. He came up in tough times, the Depression. When I get in, my job is to go after you. Sometimes I feel I'm not as angry as I should be. Off the ice, I'm just a lot calmer. Years ago I wasn't, but now I am. I don't get in fights."
Brown has been fortunate in his career. He's cracked a hand, a rib, a foot, but he's never had a bad break. A few of his teeth are loose, but all his teeth are his own. "They'll harden up," he said. "All those quarts of milk my mom gave me."
He says he really never had a plan, and he doesn't have one now, just take things one step at a time, for from cliches are born life philosophies. As frustrating as one-step-at-a-time might be right now, it's the only system Brown knows.
"When I was a kid, I thought that if I could just play one game in the NHL, that would be enough," the idled hockey player said. "And then I played in one game, and another, and then a season, then a bunch of seasons. The only thing I can do now is work hard, be ready if they say it's time to play. So that's what I'm doing."
He finished his lunch. It was early afternoon. No practice was scheduled. No game. Just a workout at home, followed by more waiting.