Pharaoh Brown described his journey to becoming an Oakland Raider as “crazy,” but even that might not be a strong enough adjective to describe just how long and arduous the past few years have been for the 23-year-old tight end.
After spending the first 15 weeks of his rookie campaign on the practice squad, Brown was promoted to the active roster December 23, and made his NFL debut just a few days later against the Philadelphia Eagles – a story of perseverance and patience in and of itself – but considering that just over three years ago, the Lyndhurst, Ohio-native wasn’t sure whether or not he’d ever have the use of his right leg again, a look at his journey becomes even more impressive.
In 2014, his junior season as an Oregon Duck, Brown was a key component on one of the most dynamic offenses in college football. He was considered one of the best tight ends not only in the conference, but the country as well, and with six touchdowns to name in nine games, his future – both collegiately and at the next level – looked as bright as one of Oregon’s countless neon uniform combinations.
Then, in early November, in a conference game against the Utah Utes, Brown suffered a gruesome injury that not only cost him the rest of the year, as well as the entire next season, but nearly cost him his leg as well.
Brown eventually returned to the football field, finished his final season at Oregon (2016) with 33 catches, for 426 yards and five touchdowns, but went undrafted, eventually signing with the Silver and Black as an undrafted free agent in May.
“It’s crazy when you look back, because I can’t make this stuff up,” Brown explained. “I know I had some red flags, the injury being one of the biggest ones, and people didn’t want to take me, but like my agent said, I had always first round, second round talent. He was like, ‘go in, and just be who you are.’”
After Clive Walford was placed on the Reserve/Injured List, Brown got his shot on the active roster, and following a first half, Vadal Alexander injury, No. 81 made his NFL debut, eventually playing 22 offensive snaps, primarily as a blocker in the run game.
“It was pretty exciting,” Brown said of his first game action. “I kind of had a heads up that if somebody went down I would get my chance, my opportunity. Vadal ended up going down kind of early, so they threw me right in, and the coaches had enough faith in me to stay with the game plan. My first play didn’t go so good. It was loud. I couldn’t hear the snap. The guy kind of just t-rolled me, but as the game went on, I started being able to get my feet ready, [and] did some good things.”
Although the Silver and Black eventually fell to the Eagles 19-10 on Christmas, the Monday night clash is one that Brown will never forget.
“It still feels surreal,” Brown explained. “I always said it was God’s plan, and even at my lowest point being injured, everybody was like, ‘he can’t come back, it’s over, he’s done,’ and wrote me off, but I stayed prayed up, and God has been showing people that anything is possible.”
Following his NFL debut, Brown’s cellphone was obviously filled to the brim with congratulatory texts and calls from friends and family, but of all the people who wished him well for his big week, he shares a special connection with one in particular, Zach Miller.
Like Brown, Miller suffered a catastrophic leg injury, and after being introduced through a mutual friend – Chicago Bears center Hronnis Grasu – the pair have sparked a friendship, based on, among many things, a unique, shared experience.
“When it [the injury] happened to him, he found out, he was like ‘man, I want to talk to him, somebody that was able to come back from it, and somebody that can relate,’” Brown said. “People going through stuff like that, you want somebody you can talk to, who knows what you’re going through. I ended up getting his number. He had talked to my trainer, so we ended up getting connected that way through Hroniss. He’s a great guy.”
The pair text each other regularly – Miller congratulated the rookie on his promotion to the active roster – and as much support and motivation as Brown can provide the veteran tight end, he gets it back, and then some.
“Just having somebody to bounce [stuff] off of, and I watch his videos on Instagram, and still get inspired, Brown said. “Me and him are the only two people that this has happened to, so I’m looking at him, like, man, that’s like a thing I look to as motivation.”
So what words of encouragement does Brown offer to Miller as the latter begins what will likely be an extensive recovery process?
“I just told him the stuff that helped me get through,” Brown said. “Telling him the stuff to expect, and everything that he’s going through, just the blueprint and everything. He’s doing great. He kind of feels like the same way I felt, just everybody writing him off, and he wants to make a comeback, and how it’s looking, I think he’s going to be able to come back if he wants to.”
While making his NFL debut was no doubt an unforgettable moment for the rookie tight end, it’s not the ultimate goal; he wants to contribute on the offensive side of the football, and hauling in his first catch is a good place to start.
“Now I’m comfortable, and I know what to expect, and the first catch is going to be big too,” he said. “I hope my first catch is like Jalen Richard’s first touch too. That would make it real good.”
He’ll get his chance Sunday afternoon when the Raiders take on the Los Angeles Chargers. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:25 p.m.