When Ted Brown returns to Raleigh, the locals take notice.
Brown, the father of Tampa Bay Lightning forward J.T. Brown and former N.C. State running back great, finished his four-year Wolfpack career as the all-time leading rusher in Atlantic Coast Conference football history with 4,602 yards, a record he still holds.
“30 years and counting,” he says proudly.
As Ted Brown sits with the rest of the Bolts dads in a corner section of Carolina’s PNC Arena watching his son J.T. and J.T.’s teammates go through a morning skate prior to their game later that night against the Hurricanes, a reporter from a local newspaper stops by to interview Ted about returning to the area where he grew up – Ted’s home town of High Point is about an hour and a half west of the city on Interstate 40 – and where he ran for all those yards across the street from PNC Arena at State’s Carter-Finley Stadium.
Five minutes after the reporter leaves, another man walks down the aisle, sidles up next to Ted and introduces himself.
“As a lifelong N.C. State fan, I just wanted to shake your hand,” the man says.
The two talk for a couple minutes before the man heads off satisfied with the encounter, leaving Ted in a reflective mood.
“They can smell you when you get close,” Ted jokes when asked if he usually gets this much attention on his returns to Raleigh. “Lot of fond memories here.”
On the ice, a couple players crunch into each other against the boards, the protecting Plexiglas above rippling like a wave away from the impact.
Which sport do you think is more physical, Ted: football or hockey?
“Football,” he answers without hesitation. “We’ve got the big uglies. Hockey players don’t know anything about the big uglies, six or seven guys weighing 300 pounds jumping on top of you while you’re at the bottom of the pile.”
A former first round draft pick (16th overall) of Minnesota in 1979 who would play eight seasons in the NFL with the Vikings before hanging up his cleats, Ted recalls what it felt like to have William “The Refrigerator” Perry fall on top of you, talks about changing plays in the huddle so he could get revenge against a particular defender, remembers some of the conversations he’d have with opposing players during a game.
“The guys on defense didn’t like to get cut [where an offensive player dives at a defender’s knees in an attempt to block him],” Ted said. “They’d say, ‘You better not cut me when I blitz.’ I’d say, ‘OK, I won’t cut you, but you better not run me over and make me look bad either.’”
A couple minutes later, the light morning skate having wrapped up, the fathers make their way down to the ice for a group photo with their sons.
J.T. never saw his dad play live. He was born in 1990, four years after Ted retired from football. YouTube clips from that era are hard to find too. Instead, he listens to stories from his father and develops an image in his head, a picture made clearer by the locals who bring up a particular run or play while talking to Ted.
“You think about it a little bit, obviously, with the father’s trip, a few plane rides talking about himself and how he played here and you get a little bit more of a background,” J.T. said. “So this trip was a little bit different.”
J.T. grew up in Minnesota playing football and hockey. His dad tells the story of how he knew J.T. wasn’t going to follow in his footsteps because when it was time to go to football practice, J.T. would procrastinate.
When it was time for hockey practice, J.T. was already out the door with his skates before the rest of the family was ready.
One of the Bolts dads asked Ted if he had ever played hockey and if he thought he could have been a professional hockey player had he grown up playing the sport.
“I have a pair of skates in my garage that have been there for 20-some years,” Ted answers. “They’re a constant reminder not to ever get on them.”
Earlier this season in Tampa Bay’s first visit to Carolina on November 1, J.T. scored his second goal of the season to give the Lightning a 3-1 lead.
On this trip, in a game the Lightning would win 4-2, their third-straight victory and one that would vault them back into second place in the Atlantic Division, J.T. scores again, netting the Bolts’ first goal by carving out space in front of the Carolina goal and rebounding Andrej Sustr’s shot from the point past Canes goalie Cam Ward, giving him two goals in two games this season in Raleigh, son continuing his father’s legacy of shining in Raleigh.
From a luxury suite on the arena’s second level with the rest of the dads, Ted beams proudly.