Ruben Brown wanted his teammates to know one thing: they were going to Space Mountain.
Brown arrived in Chicago as a free agent in 2004 and quickly endeared himself to his teammates through his work ethic, unselfishness, commitment to team success, and his resume as an eight-time Pro Bowler. They were ready for that.
What they might not have been ready for was the man with the stretch line war cry who declared Space Mountain as the team’s ultimate goal.
“Every time we broke our huddle down, we broke it down with the mantra ‘Space Mountain,’” Jason McKie told me. “Ruben Brown came up with that.”
When the Bears win their next Super Bowl, I have a feeling we will look back at the powerful free agent class of 2018 as a launch pad, just as free agents — and one big trade — upped the ante of the great draft picks that powered the Lovie years and helped us reach the Super Bowl.
Ruben Brown is one of McKie’s five favorite veteran acquisitions during his time under Lovie Smith. In a new feature for Windy City Gridiron, we present The J-Mack Top 5. First up: J-Mack’s top 5 favorite veteran acquisitions of the Lovie Smith era.
1. Thomas Jones, 2004, free agent from the Buccaneers
McKie: Thomas Jones is first. It was Lovie’s first year when T-Jones came in. We had a new offensive coordinator, Terry Shea. He was kind of going away from A-Train (Anthony Thomas). I think A-Train was more of an in-between-the-tackles guy, whereas Thomas Jones could run between the tackles or run outside but was also effective in the passing game and the screen game. He was the perfect fit for Terry Shea’s offense.
T-Jones was a guy who everyone gravitated toward because of his work ethic. As running backs, we knew he was the big name coming in. We knew he was going to be the number one guy. But he didn’t act like that. He was real easy going. He would say, “We’re all in this together. We’re all gonna be called upon to go out and make plays.”
He came in and said whether it was him or Adrian (Peterson) or me at fullback or whoever was in that running back room, it was all about us working hard. He immediately became the big brother of our running back room. He wanted to know who we were. He wanted us to get together outside of Halas Hall. He wanted us to bond because he knew that would lead to success on the field. He let it be known that he wasn’t all about him. It was about us, collectively.
We had a thing where when we broke it down, whether in practice or before a game, that we were the best backs in the league, collectively. “Best backs in the league — b-unit on 3.” That was our breakdown. Because it’s a long season. One back is probably not going to play 16 games, so we knew that at any time, one of us would get called on for what could be a season-defining play.
Thomas was a team player first, and that won the running back room over. He wanted to be great but he wanted everybody around him to be great because he knew that in order for him to be successful, we all had to be successful.
2. Ruben Brown, 2004, free agent from the Bills
Ruben was so successful in Buffalo, so I was really excited. “Man, we got Ruben Brown.” At that time, he was one of the top offensive guards in the league. He was a perennial Pro Bowler. He could run block. He could pass block. He was a beast.
He had a way of leading people. He was a guy who everybody got along with. He was loud. Especially in pregame, Ruben was one of the loudest guys on the field. When we first came in, we were like, “Who is this guy yelling?” He’s walking through the stretch line. Everybody’s stretching. He’s just yelling. Screaming out stuff. You couldn’t even describe it — there were no words. He was just beating his chest. It was like a war chant. We’re looking at him crazy. But it was a good crazy — a football crazy. Because when he got out there on the field, we knew why, because he was ready for war. And he went out there and dominated each and every Sunday.
His personality was infectious. He was a guy who just worked. He was a team-first guy. He didn’t care if he was going to the Pro Bowl or if he was the best offensive lineman. He just wanted us to win games, point blank, period. The only thing on his mind was winning a Super Bowl, and that’s why everybody gravitated toward Ruben as well.
Silverstein: What was the first time that you remember Ruben telling you that you guys were going to go to the Super Bowl?
McKie: Man… In 2005, we had a successful season. Obviously we lost in the playoffs to the Carolina Panthers, but we knew we had a good team. We knew that if we could come back and continue to work and build on what we started in 2005, we had a chance. We felt in training camp that we were going to go to the Super Bowl. We prepared that way. We talked about it in training camp. Every time we broke our huddle down, we broke it down with the mantra “Space Mountain!”
Ruben Brown came up with that. We had shirts that had “Space Mountain” on the back.
“Space Mountain” was the ultimate pinnacle. It was not only going to the Super Bowl, it was winning the Super Bowl. That’s what we broke it down on: “We’re on our way to Space Mountain!” First we wanted to beat Green Bay. Then we wanted to win the division. Then we wanted to get to the Super Bowl. Then we wanted to reach Space Mountain.
We did that breakdown throughout training camp, through every game, and even before the Super Bowl.
bear down. Bears on their way to space mountain. Pimp Strong.— Ruben Brown (@Ruben7974) January 19, 2011
3. Adewale Ogunleye, 2004, trade from the Dolphins
McKie: Wale was traded for Marty Booker. It was before a preseason game. Adrian and I were always together — we’re walking out of a Hilton and we see Marty leaving. He’s got his bags. We’re like, “Where are you going?” He says, “I got traded.” Like, what? Before a preseason game? They traded him to Miami and Wale to the Bears.
Silverstein: And Booker was a pretty popular guy, I assume?
McKie: Yeah. Book was an awesome guy. He was a playmaker. He was a guy who when I first got here, he took me under his wing. He went out of his way to help me. I can remember him picking me up for different appearances. He really cared for his teammates. He wasn’t the loudest guy — he was mostly quiet — but the guy could play. You knew he was going to lay it on the line for his team.
Book was awesome, so when he left, I was kind of hurt. He was one of the guys who when I came, he helped me out a lot and made me feel welcome.
Silverstein: That being the case, obviously Ogunleye became one of the very important players on the Super Bowl team. But in 2004 when the trade happens you don’t know that’s how it’s all going to play out.
McKie: You don’t know.
Silverstein: What did Wale do to win people over? How did he come into that new situation?
McKie: Wale, he’s always been himself. (Laughs) He’s a funny guy. He was a real popular guy in the locker room, a guy who got along with everybody. He came in and had a swagger about him. We knew he was a good player when he was down in Miami. He obviously had a lot of sacks when he was down in Miami. We were like, “You know what? They brought this guy in, in a trade, and paid him all this money. He better get some sacks.” (Laughs.)
We were like, “Man, they traded one of our guys on offense and they got another guy on defense?” Our defense was already stacked. We were like, “Man, this guy better come in and get some sacks and produce.” And he did. He definitely did.
Our team, there weren’t really any egos. Even though he was one of the higher paid guys on the team, you wouldn’t know it. He was just him. He had a New York swagger, a New York accent. He just went about his business. He was real close with the d-line. He would talk trash to us as running backs and we would talk trash back.
But that’s how we showed our affection for each other. Talking trash. The defense was a real close group, and Wale was one of the most respected guys on defense.
4. Muhsin Muhammad, 2005, free agent from the Panthers
McKie: Moose came in and I was real excited. He was a beast in Carolina. He and Steve Smith were arguably the best duo in the league for a few years there. I was like, “Man, we got Muhsin Muhammad,” a big physical receiver who can go up and get the ball. The year before he had 16 touchdown receptions. Crazy.
He brought a physicality to our passing game. I’ve seen Moose go over the middle, get hit by a linebacker, and keep going. I’ve seen Moose run over linebackers. He wasn’t a typical receiver. Most receivers, they don’t want to block. They don’t want to get down in the box and get dirty. We would have plays where Moose would motion into the box and crack an outside linebacker. He would do it like he was a lead blocker. That’s what I remember most about Moose.
I remember we were running “Power,” which was our staple play. We ran it to the right side because Coach liked Ruben pulling. There were a couple of times where we would bring Moose in motion into the box. I remember him coming down and he cracked a lot of people. He cracked me on accident a couple times. And Mushin’s not a small receiver, so I felt it.
He was no prima donna receiver. He did everything. He blocked when he had to. Run after the catch — he was trying to get extra yards, break tackles, run somebody over. And he could go up and compete for the ball with the best of them. That was Muhsin Muhammad.
When he came in, it was the same thing as the other guys: he could have had an ego, but he didn’t. He treated everyone the same. Whether you were a free agent who probably was only going to be there throughout training camp, a perennial Pro Bowler, a starter, a 2nd string guy or just a special teams guy — anybody could go up and talk to Moose and Moose would treat you the same way.
I always reached out to him for advice. He was an older guy, a veteran guy who a lot of us younger guys looked up to. He was the ultimate prototypical Chicago Bear. He was a throwback guy — the epitome of what it is to be a Chicago Bear. Physical. Tough. Hard nosed. Blue collar. He took control of that wide receiver room. And he did whatever it took for us to be successful.
5. Roberto Garza, 2005, free agent from the Falcons
McKie: Garza was another guy who came in and solidified his position. He wasn’t the bonafide leader of the offensive line. Obviously that was Olin Kreutz. But Garza came in and he wouldn’t be real vocal, but he was consistent. Whatever happened, you knew Garza would be there.
He was a guy you could always count on to play hurt. He was a strong guy. A physical guy. He may not have gotten the recognition of a lot of offensive guards in this league who were perennial Pro Bowlers or had the big name, but Garza was definitely one of the most consistent guys we had on this team. You knew what you were going to get each and every practice. You knew what you were going to get each and every game.
He was a great teammate as well, and he was another guy who was truly a Chicago Bear. No ego. Just went out and did what he had to do for his team. Whether he was hurt, whether he was sick, you couldn’t tell, because Garza was going to be Garza on that field, and Garza was going to be Garza in that locker room.
So that was Jason’s top five.
But me being the curious sort, there were a few other names I wanted to toss his way. I was specifically curious to hear about guys who arrived after Super Bowl XLI. After all, there is a difference between coming to a team that is building toward a Super Bowl, and coming in after chemistry, the depth chart, and a level of success are established.
So I threw J-Mack some other names, guys whose stories interest me, and asked how they fit in when they came on board. Here’s what he said:
Anthony Adams, 2007, free agent from the 49ers
McKie: He was awesome. He really was. We had played against him in San Francisco for a few years. When he came in I remember me and Adrian teasing him saying, “Remember that butt-whupping we put on you?” The year before, we had really spanked San Fran when they came up to Soldier Field. We were like, “Didn’t you play for San Fran? Weren’t you number 91? Didn’t we beat you guys 41-10?”
He was a beast. A guy that big and that athletic was crazy. He was always himself. He was outgoing. The majority of the time we were about our work, and he brought a comedic humor to the locker room. If guys were uptight, you could count on Double-A to loosen up the locker room. He was another guy who could definitely go out and play, and he fit in well with that defensive line. We had guys who were fast, physical, and could get after the quarterback, and he was one of those guys.
But it was his personality that was infectious. If you wanted to laugh or needed to cheer up, Double-A was your guy to do that. Sometimes he would do his pregame dance. It was genius because, one, it was funny, so it got us loose. If you play uptight you’re nervous about making mistakes, but if you’re loose you just go out there and play ball.
He got us loose and made us laugh, but at the same time he pumped us up and got us ready to play as a team. Because during the week, all through training camp, it was offense and defense — we were two teams. But on game day, we were one team. He got us pumped and got us together to execute and play a solid game. I think it was genius.
Adam Archuleta, 2007, trade from Washington
McKie: He wasn’t there that long. He was there and then he was gone. I knew who he was before he came in. He was one of the top safeties when he came out. But when he came in, it was almost like — to me and to a lot of guys, especially the backs, it was like, he was different. We were like, “Does he even want to play football?”
When he came in he was coming off an injury, and to me he didn’t seem like himself. He was a guy who flashed athleticism and playmaking ability, but I think the injury really took a toll on him, and that was that. He was a guy who at one time was on top of the world, and then he got hurt and was just trying to regain his form.
But as far as the locker room, he was a cool guy. He definitely was. He was a guy who I talked to quite often. A lot of other guys did as well. I have nothing bad to say about him as a teammate. He was a great teammate. I just think it was a case of him having an unfortunate injury and trying to battle back from it, and then not living up to expectations due to that injury.
Jay Cutler, 2009, trade from the Broncos
McKie: Coming in, I was real excited about Jay. The year before he went to the Pro Bowl in the AFC, which already had a lot of great quarterbacks. They had Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and now we had Jay Cutler. “Man, we got a gunslinger, we got a playmaker. We’ve got a quarterback. He’s going to be a beast.”
When he came in, I thought he was cool. He was down-to-Earth. I had a huge bowling event a few weeks after he came in, and he came and bowled. He was awesome when he first came in.
I know a lot of different people have a lot of different things to say about Jay and how he was, but you know, I think he had his ups and downs. I would speak to him and one day he would be cool, and the next time I would speak to him he wouldn’t say much. I just think that was his personality. I still say to this day, he wasn’t an awful teammate. I just think he was misunderstood. Obviously in the media, but around a lot of people some days he wanted to talk and some days he wouldn’t.
I was real excited when he came in. I know a lot of other people were as well.
Jack M Silverstein is Windy City Gridiron’s Bears historian, and author of “How The GOAT Was Built: 6 Life Lessons From the 1996 Chicago Bulls.” He is the proprietor of Chicago sports history Instagram “A Shot on Ehlo.” Say hey at @readjack.
Jason McKie played nine years in the NFL, including seven with the Bears from 2003 to 2009. The son of a U.S. Air Force veteran, McKie runs the Jason McKie Foundation, which supports military families, including scholarships for the children of wounded soldiers. Along with former Bears teammates Alex Brown and Adrian Peterson, McKie owns and operates the All Pro Sports Performance Gym in Gurnee, Illinois.