February 22 marks the 49th birthday for Mark Chmura and the 47th for Gilbert Brown, two heroes of the Brett Favre era. As one of Brett Favre’s closest friends, Chmura was a trusted safety outlet on the field for the Packers of the late 1990s. Early in 1999, though, Mark herniated two cervical discs in his spine, and he never played again. Even had he been able to return from that injury, it’s likely that his Packer career would have ended anyway after he was arrested on sexual assault charges involving his children’s’ babysitter in April 2000.
Ron Wolf’s response was to shift from his focus on defensive end John Abraham to tight end Bubba Franks with his first round draft pick later that month. The Packers then released Chmura before training camp. Despite being found not guilty of all charges in February 2001, the fact was he used poor judgment by participating in a post-prom party of high school students.
On the field, the 6’5” 250-pound Chmura was an all-around tight end in the Ron Kramer mold of blocker/receiver and was selected to three Pro Bowls. Drafted out of Boston College in the sixth round in 1992, he spent that season on injured reserve and the next two as a backup. Finally winning the starting job in 1995, Chmura had a breakout year with 54 catches for seven touchdowns. Offensive coordinator Sherman Lewis described his development, “He’s a lot stronger, a lot more familiar with the offense. He’s a big target.” When All-Pro Keith Jackson arrived at season’s end, Green Bay had a formidable two-tight end attack for the 1996 championship season.
Chmura scored on a two-point conversion in the Super Bowl victory over New England. A year later, he caught a touchdown in the Super Bowl loss to Denver and was the target on Favre’s fourth down incompletion to end the game. A very short career and its sad end puts him on the bubble here.
Amiable, jumbo-sized Gilbert Brown was a favorite of both John Madden and Packer fans. I once described him as “a rumbling, jiggling dominant warrior Buddha in pads,” and I don’t think I can improve on that description. Drafted out of Kansas by Minnesota in the third round in 1993, he was cut and signed with Green Bay that year, although he did not become a starter until 1995. As a 6’2” nose tackle, his job was to clog the middle of the line, take up multiple blockers and free his teammates to make plays. At 330-340 pounds, he did just that, but as his weight crept up to 370 and beyond, he lost his wind and became just an immobile blob that could be bypassed. By the time he passed 400 pounds, he had eaten himself out of the league in the year 2000.
Brown worked hard that year to get back to playing weight and returned to Green Bay in 2001 at 340. Once again, he won the starting nose tackle position and extended his career for another three years, although never again at his “Gravedigger” peak of the championship year of 1996. At his run-stuffing best, he made the Packers’ middle impenetrable, but even then he was not of much value as a pass rusher and would wear down if he were on the field too long.
(Adapted from Green Bay Gold.)
Custom cards in 1961 Fleer style.