Game of life can be tough

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:34 AM ET

On paper, Robert Brown is off to a great start in 2006, with one sack in this young CFL season.

In living colour on the football field, the Edmonton Eskimo defensive tackle has looked even better. Arguably the top lineman through the preseason and the beginning of the regular season, Brown has rumbled into the offensive backfield and hurried plays, which don't show up on the stats pages.

But off the field, life hasn't been fun or easy this month.

In fact, life is frightening and stressful, which makes his play on the field even more remarkable.

Although the situation has been kept relatively quiet until now, Brown's tiny son Elijah has barely seen the world outside of a hospital since being born June 4.

MORE TESTS

Already through one surgery early last week for a twisted stomach, the doctors continue to test him to see if he can keep food down. So far, he's taking food and keeping it, but more tests are needed, meaning he's likely not coming home until at least next week.

"You are just helpless," said Brown, who is at the hospital every morning and then at night, when late afternoon practice is over.

"All I can do is just pray hard for this child because I can't do anything.

"But it's incredible how strong he is. He's a little fighter."

And his dad is fighting hard on the field, somehow blocking out -- for the most part -- what is happening at the hospital.

"It's extremely impressive," said head coach Danny Maciocia.

"I have two kids and I wonder how productive I would be as a coach if there were problems at home.

"Not too many people can do (what he's doing). He's clearly in the minority."

Brown is able to stay focused in practice and during a game because he knows he has to provide for his tiny son the best way he can -- which means earning a paycheque.

But there is another reason for his success: an attitude change after leaving a bad situation in Montreal last fall.

Enduring the worst year of his career in 2005 brought something good to the 280-pound, 10-year CFL vet: a wake-up call.

His job security in this league took a major hit with only two sacks and seven tackles last year.

"I practise now like it's going to be my last practice," said Brown.

"I am never going back to the feeling that this is my right to play and basically take it for granted.

"It is a privilege to play."

The Eskimos thought he could still play after a rough year in Montreal, trading for him in the off-season -- and that trade has been a blessing in more than one way for Brown.

A HIGHER POWER

If he had been with another team this year, he would have likely taken a leave of absence to be with his wife Amber and Elijah because the plan had always been to give birth in their off-season home city of Edmonton.

"I truly believe that a higher power allowed me to be here (playing) in Edmonton," said Brown.

Now he just wants his young son to come home.

The prognosis is good -- and Brown is praying it stays that way.


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