Article for a phil. newspaper.
Eagles' Sheldon Brown, wife Jenny already planning for life after footballBy DANA PENNETT O'NEILoneild@phillynews.comSHELDON BROWN stood outside the Sage Diner on a rainy morning, waiting for his agent to pull up. Just roused from bed, he wore an old black sweat shirt, the hood pulled tight to keep the rain off his head.
Inside, his wife, Jenny, held a table.
Two businessmen walked by outside, did a double take at Sheldon and then sat down inside, at a table alongside Jenny where she easily could hear their conversation.
"I think that's Sheldon Brown outside," the one businessman said.
Incredulous, the other said to his friend. "Do you really think Sheldon Brown would eat here?" he said.
"When Jenny told me that, I couldn't stop laughing," Brown said. "Where else am I going to eat?"
As the Eagles still pick up the shrapnel from the fallout with their former prima donna wide receiver who lived in his requisite $4 million mansion and strutted like the peacock you've come to expect of men who bring home paychecks the rest of us can't fathom, it's important to remember that not everyone who pulls in an NFL salary lives like the Sultan of Brunei and behaves like Paris Hilton.
Some, like Brown, are ordinary folks who just do extraordinary things on Sundays.
Make no mistake, Brown makes a very nice salary - he recently signed a 6-year extension worth a reported $24 million - but the only time you'll find him on the front lawn is when he's shooting baskets in his driveway with neighborhood kids.
He lives quietly, another guy in another house on the block.
And his new home in Marlton, N.J., purchased about a year ago, is certainly good-sized, but it is far from a gilded palace. On a recent tour, Brown had some accoutrements that not all of us can afford - an outdoor kitchen that would make Emeril salivate, a closet the size of a small bedroom - but as he made his way through the house he made it clear that this is the home of a regular guy.
"Isn't this a great vanity?" he said as he peaked around a first-floor bathroom. "We got it at Target."
Next to Bed, Bath & Beyond, it's the Browns' favorite haunt.
"My mother will look at something in our house and be like, 'Oh that is so nice. I wish I could afford something like that,' " Jenny said. "I'm like, 'Mom. We got it at Target. We brought it home in a box and Sheldon put it together.' "
The Browns aren't cheapskates. They're smart.
Wiser than his years, Brown realized as a rookie that the good life he's living now won't be around for a long time. NFL players have a shelf life shorter than a loaf of bread and Brown recognized quickly that living for today means extinguishing tomorrow.
"I'm living for my future," he said. "I know I'm unusual, but I've seen other guys struggle. They never expect the money to stop coming in, and when it does, they can't make it.
"I won't be like that."
Friends from their days at Lewisville High in South Carolina, Jenny and Sheldon Brown have been together forever - "If it wasn't her sitting here, it would be no one," Brown says of his wife.
They struggled as everyone does, eating their fair share of Ramen noodles in college and squeezing every last dollar out of what little budget they could string together.
"I'd go to McDonald's on my way to work and he'd call and say, 'You couldn't eat something at home?' " Jenny said.
Even after Brown was drafted, as a second-round pick, nothing was guaranteed. The couple lived in an apartment for 6 months until they were certain he'd make the Eagles and then spent their first 3 years fixing up an old house.
They sold that in the offseason and once the ink on the new contract dried, went shopping for something new.
When they found the home they eventually purchased - a former model home - they had to be talked up to the asking price.
"Our financial adviser said you probably need to spend a little more to get what you want," said Jenny, who is pregnant with the couple's first child, a boy due in January who will be named Sheldon Dion but will be called Dion, as his dad always wanted to be known.
"I panicked. I didn't think we could afford it."
Lest anyone get the impression that these two are living a thrifty lifestyle on a shoestring budget, there are at least a few stops on the house tour that quickly erase that myth.
For starters, every room - even the master bathroom - has a plasma television hung in a corner.
Baby Dion's room is in the process of being hand painted by local artist Donna Sinno. The room has two bold red and black stripes running around the top border of the wall, the University of South Carolina Gamecocks logo on one wall, the school's USC letters on another and a crib with custom black gingham bedding on the way.
"I always wondered how kids were just raised Carolina fans," Brown said. "Now I understand. My son has no choice."
The real giveaway that this isn't your typical Ozzie and Harriet house is downstairs.
"This is the only room that we really designed, or I designed," Brown said as he walked down the stairs to his basement lair.
It is a sports fan's fantasy. The walls are lined with framed photographs of Brown in his playing days at both South Carolina and with the Eagles.
On one wall, his entire Super Bowl uniform is framed, complete, Brown points out sheepishly, with the dry-cleaning tag on the belt that he forget to remove.
On another are framed and autographed jerseys from Brown's boys, Bobby Taylor and Troy Vincent, taken literally after the two played their final Eagles game, grass stains and all.
Tucked into a nicely set up workout room is Brown's locker from South Carolina - saved from the garbage pile when the school was remodeling and stuck in storage until just recently.
And in another space is an in-home theater, complete with 110-inch, drop-down projection screen and 11 comfy suede recliners (each with its own cupholder).
Brown is like a proud kid when he shows off the room, and he's proud of the whole house, as he should be.
This is, after all, his personal castle.
But really Brown is prouder to show what his house isn't. It is not an ode to excessive living or a status symbol to make sure everyone knows he's a Somebody Who is Very Important and Very Rich.
It is by every definition a home, not a house.
"We could have gotten a bigger house and spent all our money on that, but why?" Brown said.
"Who do we have to impress? We're happy the way we live, and we know we'll still be happy in the future."
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
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