In his 13 years with the Chicago Fire,C.J. Brown made quite an impression.
Spending your entire Major League Soccer career with the same team helps. So does setting team records for MLS regular-season appearances (296), MLS Cup playoff appearances (35) andU.S. Open Cup appearances (25). He also helped the team win the MLS title in 1998.
Of course, his former teammates will tell you that's not really why he's a legend.
"They call him the Fire Original," said Frank Klopas, who both played with Brown early in the defender's career and later coached him. "He bled for the team, loved putting the jersey on, wore it with honor and displayed that when he stepped on the field and played."
Since Brown retired in 2010, he has become an assistant coach for Real Salt Lake. And on Wednesday, he'll become the seventh man inducted into the Ring of Fire, the team's Hall of Fame, so to speak. RedEye spoke with Brown the fan favorite before his big day about his coaching career, his famous dance and how he made his teammates tougher.
What does this honor mean to you?
It's a great feeling. You put some much effort, work, time, commitment into your job, your sport. I always had a goal in life to mean something somewhere, kind of put my name on something, and I guess this could fit under that goal of being acknowledged as an important part of an organization. It's great that they've inducted me into this. I think it's gonna be a fun night. It's great for my family and everyone that's been a fan or a part of what I've tried to build there. It's gonna be really, really emotional because I feel like I've grown up in Chicago. I've grown up through the Chicago Fire. It's tough because I come there and I'm working with another team, so that kind of gets in a way a little bit because I've gotta focus on our team right now. [Laughs.] But it's gonna be really cool.
Would you ever want to coach in Chicago?
That would be awesome to be able to coach for the Fire. But you never know. I never want to shoot myself in the foot and say "That's where I need to be." Right now things are going well [for the Fire]; Frankie's doing a great job. It'd probably have to be a long time from now because I think Frankie's gonna be there for a while. As long as the team's doing well, they're not gonna need another coach for a long time. But it would be nice to [again] be a part of program that I felt I helped build and grow. For now I'm still learning to be a coach.Jason [Kreis, the Real Salt Lake coach, is] teaching me a lot of stuff here, so things are going well.
I would say I've changed in many ways. I agree that you still have to be firm, physical and hard. But now being around Jason and this coaching staff, they believe in trying to possess the game and there's a beauty to the game of moving the ball, and I agree with it. I'm all for it 100 percent, but I'd also like to see when it's time to get down and dirty that we have guys that can do that, and I think that's where I come in and say, "Hey, guys, we're not doing so well with the ball today, let's make sure that we're not getting beat. Let's get physical and stand up for ourselves." I still believe in the hard-nosed game, but I want to see us mix the hard-nosed game with the finesse of the game, and I think that's 100 percent possible.
You're famous for the "C.J. Dance" among fans in Chicago. Where did it come from?
I was in Europe training a long time ago, and we went to a game, and when goals are scored or something happens you just look over to the fans and they're just partying. I swear I saw it there somehow, and I'm like, "They're having a great time." Every time we have a great time, I wanna try and celebrate with the fans. [Then] every time we'd win a game I'd go over there and [the Fire die-hards in Section 8 would] have their little song going, and I just felt in that moment to try that and it just became something I did every game.
Did your teammates try to copy you?
No, I don't think so. I would love for guys to jump in and dance with me because then I wouldn't feel like such an idiot sometimes. [Laughs.] I guess it was just something I did and the guys did what they do. Everybody has their own little ways of connecting with the fans, and I think that's the unique part of the relationship of players to fans.
What are the chances you'll perform it Wednesday?
It'll be tough. I brought that out only when I was wearing the uniform and I'm not wearing the uniform anymore. You know what I've been trying to do is teach my daughter how to do it. She's really gung-ho about doing it right now, but I have a feeling when she gets in front of a bunch of people she probably won't do it.
You often have been called a "hard-nosed defender." How do you balance being that tough guy and being a nice guy off the field?