Where Are They Now? Small town outshines big time for ex-Husky


Dave Browning lives in Mica, Wash., a town with a post office and not much more. It’s just 15 miles from where he was raised. He has 10 acres, or about 750 fewer than he and two brothers once tended.

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This would seem to suggest that he’s never gone anywhere outside of these sprawling wheat fields that push up against the Idaho state line south of Spokane, yet that’s hardly the case.

Browning, 52, once played in the Rose Bowl, Super Bowl and USFL championship game — just missing out on a rare title trifecta — before returning to his Eastern Washington roots.

Reluctantly, he’ll sit and watch Sunday’s Pittsburgh-Arizona Super Bowl game on TV, or at least part of it.

“Everybody keeps asking me that,” Browning said. “I don’t even follow football that much anymore. I enjoy hunting. That’s pretty much my season. Deer. Elk. Turkeys have become real big over here.”

There’s always something else he could be doing. On the family farm in nearby Fairfield, Browning operated heavy machinery when he was 10. He and brothers Dean and Dan annually were responsible for 100 head of beef and 400 tons of hay once in high school. Each hay bale needed to be handled seven times to move it from the field to a trailer and into the barn.

A tall, rangy kid could turn strong and muscular without ever walking into a weight room.

Browning at UW

These natural, open-air workouts brought stunning football results for the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Browning, though he was forced to make a two-year detour to Spokane Falls Community College after playing in relative recruiting obscurity at Liberty High School, a B-11 school.

The Washington Huskies made Browning a two-year starting defensive tackle and one of four team captains at the 64th Rose Bowl. In a 27-20 victory over Michigan in 1978, he had a fumble recovery and Wolverines quarterback Rick Leach on the run at all times. In practice at Costa Mesa Junior College, he and others drank out of a garden hose and became sick for three days. He and teammates also indulged in a pregame shopping spree.

“Eight of us went to a clothing store, and we bought three-piece suits to go to the Rose Bowl,” Browning recalled. “It was the first three-piece suit that any of us had worn. I think I still have mine. My wife won’t tell me if she got rid of it or not. I think it’s still in style.”

Browning was a second-round draft pick of the Oakland Raiders and fairly quickly became the defensive tackle starter opposite John Matuszak. In the third of his six NFL seasons, he made it to Super Bowl XV in New Orleans, as part of the first wild-card team to advance that far, beating Philadelphia 27-10 in 1981.

There was no shortage of wild times with this fun-loving and renegade bunch of Raiders, though Browning set limits.

“There were times hanging with Matuszak that I knew I had to leave before trouble showed up,” he said. “You learn from other people’s mistakes. I wouldn’t say I was a saint, though.”

Browning spent a year with the New England Patriots before jumping to the short-lived USFL for two seasons, closing out his football career in the league’s third and final league championship game in 1985. At the Meadowlands in New Jersey, the Jim Mora Sr.-coached Baltimore Stars edged his Oakland Invaders 28-24.

A string of injuries, most notably a separated shoulder, persuaded Browning to retire after the title game, with the league about to fold. Still, the USFL was fun for him.

“I have a photo of me about to sack Rick Neuheisel,” he said of the former UW coach, then a San Antonio Gunslingers quarterback.

After the death last fall of former Raiders standout Gene Upshaw, Browning was one of 100 players flown to Oakland for a reunion gathering, catching up with teammates for the first time since he played. He wore his Super Bowl ring, which is usually kept stored in a safe deposit box.

He has plenty of football keepsakes, including his Super Bowl helmet, autographed footballs, photos and programs, but he recently parted with UW, Raiders and Invaders jerseys in an online auction, simply because he wanted the proceeds. He usually wears his Rose Bowl ring.

Browning lives in Mica with his wife of 20 years, Leslie. He drives a truck for a Spokane cement company. He owns three Icelandic horses and rides every weekend during the summer months. He prefers the simple life. Sadly, there have been excruciating complications along the way.

Ten years ago, Browning’s stepson, Tanner, 16, and daughter, Katy, 9, were killed and his wife left seriously injured from a head-on collision near Rockford, not far from their home. A man in a pickup truck hit them while illegally trying to pass another vehicle. The tragedy took place on Browning’s 42nd birthday.

“As much as you’re able to, you’ve got to have faith in the Lord and know you’re going to see them someday,” Browning said. “We’re just passing through on a journey to some place that’s greater. That’s the only comfort you can find. It’s hard. You miss them and remember things. There are things you don’t want to do anymore because of what happened.

“It definitely alters your life, changes your life very dramatically. It takes a few years to get a grasp on it.”

Browning will take a passing interest in Sunday’s Super Bowl, which once included him. Yet as much as anyone, he understands there are things far more important than that hyped-up football game.