FOXBORO — Somewhere, off in retirement and pushing age 65, Sam “Bam” Cunningham is at ease.
His New England Patriots have done the 1970s rushing legend proud, finally assigning his No. 39 to a football player that — at least in his first training camp here — has done all he could to put the “Bam” back in the Pats repertoire.
After a series of finesse players wore 39, including Laurence Maroney and more recently Danny Woodhead, Brandon Browner, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound impact cornerback has assumed Cunningham’s number.
He already has the attitude.
Pats fans fawn over the big-money acquisition across the field, all-world corner Darrelle Revis, with good reason.
But while Revis should provide a Deion Sanders-like cloak of invincibility on his half of the pitch, it is the bruising Browner, who could hold the key to the Pats’ defensive personality and more important their success.
Browner came to the Pats as your more typical Bill Belichick, bargain-basement, low-risk, high-reward selection. At least more typical than Revis, who comes here for huge money with an even larger reputation.
Browner carries plenty of baggage. The 30-year-old (tomorrow) started only eight games last year for Pete Carroll’s world champion Seahawks.
He was suspended for the final two, plus playoffs due to a violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. That forced hiatus stretches into this year, in which Browner will be held out of the first four games.
Even before the suspension the 2011 Pro Bowler had lost his starting spot to Byron Maxwell, making him expendable in Seattle.
But in New England, where Belichick has spent the better part of the last decade entertaining smurf types on every corner, literally, Browner looks and feels like a physical golem, one Pats fans expect to rip opposing receivers to shreds.
Browner, whose deal is a modest 3-year, $17 million package with only $1 million guarantee. Incentives are everywhere, but the greatest incentive of them all is that the Pats can axe him whenever they wish if he is a problem.
So far, Browner has taken the honeymoon portion of this arrangement to push and prod at the limits.
In one practice, doing work in the run game, the corner leveled rookie James White. Days later, he scrapped with Kenbrell Thompkins in drills. Finally, it was receivers coach Chad O’Shea, who drew Browner’s ire as the two got into a shouting match right before the local crowd.
“That’s part of intimidation,” linebacker Dont’a Hightower said, of Browner’s fiery play. “He had that when he was in Seattle and even before that. That’s his style of play. As a receiver and you’re watching film, and you see him ragdolling guys around and choking guys out at the line of scrimmage, that’s intimidation. You strike fear into them. That’s definitely a trait that he’s had, and he’s definitely using it.”
For now, Browner is feisty, potentially a guy we haven’t seen in these parts since Rodney Harrison retired and took his locker-room act to the 30 Rockefeller Center.
You couldn’t help think this weekend when Harrison came back into town for Ty Law’s induction into the Patriots Hall of Fame to think if history was about to repeat itself.
When Harrison and Law hooked up, the two helped shape the greatest defense in New England history and one of the top teams in football with the 2003-04 Patriots. Are Revis and Browner the second coming?
Remember back in 2012 for Seattle, the lick he laid on Wes Welker. That was a Rodney Harrison-style play. Pats fans know, if that play translates here, this defense could live up to its potential.
Fans and followers anxiously pray that he can again deliver when it matters.
Of course, we will all have to wait as Browner sits out September.