Dave Brown knew his role as an Arizona Cardinal — not only to be Jake Plummer’s backup at quarterback but to be a football big brother of sorts.
“I often joked that I was Crash Davis and Jake Plummer was Nuke LaLoosh,” Brown said with a laugh, referencing the Kevin Costner and Tim Robbins characters from the film “Bull Durham.” “He had an unbelievable upside and ability, and I was brought in to mentor him.”
Who knew that that relationship would beget another, with a seventh-round draft pick who happened to be Plummer’s friend and former Arizona State teammate, a safety named Pat Tillman?
Brown had been a Giant from 1992-97, and a starter for 3 ½ of those years, when he moved to Arizona. Even though he was older than Plummer and Tillman, he found himself hanging out with them and getting to know a man who then was an iconoclastic figure and now is an iconic one.
Hence Brown’s role as an interview subject in “A Football Life — Pat Tillman,” which premieres on NFL Network at 9 p.m. on Oct. 28 and was co-produced / directed by Steven Menzel and former Newsday paperboy Paul Monusky, who is from Hauppauge.
“His hallmark was, he wasn’t against the grain, but he questioned ‘Why?’ a lot,” Brown recalled in a phone interview. “That’s a pretty good trait when you’re respectful about it, not always accepting what the world wants you to. He would say: ‘Prove to me what you’re saying is accurate.’”
Brown recalled spirited discussions with religious teammates who quoted the Bible and the miracles it describes. “He was just inquisitive,” Brown said. “He wasn’t disruptive. He just wanted answers.”
Tillman put his football career on hold when he enlisted in the Army in the spring of 2002, inspired by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan two years later.
The documentary humanizes Tillman through interviews with friends and relatives — notably his widow, Marie, who since has remarried — and Tillman’s own words.
Brown tells the story of the team meeting that followed the 9/11 attacks in which as a New Jerseyan he urged the Cardinals to vote not to play that weekend. (The games later were postponed by the NFL.)
“At the time I had a lot of friends in the Financial District and I wasn’t sure how they were doing,” he said. “I just spoke from the heart about the enormity of the situation.”
There was a request for a show of hands. “If there were 55 guys, 54 said, ‘We don’t want to play,’ and one who wanted to play, and it was Pat,’ ” Brown said. “I was [ticked off]. I said, ‘Explain to me why the hell you want to play?’ He said, ‘You know what, they shouldn’t be able to dictate on their terms.’
“His attitude was just, respect the game, can’t be bullied. I remember I was [ticked off]. I knew people [who died]. Looking back he might have been right. Obviously, time heals all wounds. Since that time I think public perception is we shouldn’t allow these terrorists to dictate our lives. He was the first person to really step up and say that.”
The last time Brown spoke to Tillman was when he called to discuss his enlistment.
“I was shocked,” Brown said. “I was done [playing] at that point and he was mulling a deal with the Rams and I was sitting back home in New Jersey and got a call from him. I didn’t try to talk him out of it, but I certainly didn’t understand.
“I was floored, like, ‘Are you kidding me? Is this the right thing for you?’ . . . I think he liked football and understood his role there but he questioned whether, is this all there is?”
Brown, now 46, last played in 2001 and since has flourished in finance. He currently works for the New York-based investment bank Moelis & Company, raising money for private equity firms.
He said he “got bitten by the finance bug in the late ‘90s” as a Cardinals backup. “I got much better at golf and I watched the news a lot more and wondered what my career would be like,” he said.
Brown still lives in Westfield, N.J., where he grew up, and has daughters ages 15 and 13 and a 12-year-old son. He said he roots for his alma mater, Duke, but is not particularly a fan of the Giants or Jets.
“I’m really just a fan of the game,” he said.
Brown’s career was a disappointment for a first-round pick in the 1992 supplemental draft. He failed to lead the Giants to the playoffs and finished with 44 touchdowns and 58 interceptions.
“Listen, playing 10 years is a great accomplishment,” he said, “but when you get drafted as a first-rounder you have aspirations to win Super Bowls and be a Hall of Famer and stuff like that. Clearly, that was not my path.
“I view it personally as a disappointment because I didn’t achieve all the goals that everyone wants in their career . . . Do I have regrets, certain things I wish I would have done better? Sure. But if I take a step back, I take a holistic view.”
That includes cherishing memorable characters he met along the way — no one more than Tillman.
“To say he’s a ‘character’ maybe has some negative charge,” Brown said. “He was the most solid human being you could ever be around, an unwavering teammate and friend, and as reliable as the morning sun coming up.”